Parkour and Freedom of Creation
History – A Short Primer
David Belle debatably the founder of Parkour as we know it was inspired by George Hébert’s principles of physical training; the “Natural Method of Physical Culture”, which he developed in the early twentieth century. George Hébert was once a French Navy Officer and his influence was spread throughout the French Army. French soldiers inspired by Hébert’s work went on and created “parcours du combatant”, which is an obstacle course training in which soldiers are timed to get past obstacles as quickly as possible. David Belle’s father, Raymond Belle was a French soldier who followed George’s Hébert’s principles. Influenced by his father and aware of these disciplines, David went on to use his abilities and persistence to develop Parkour. Parkour was given its name by changing the word “parcours”. Belle changed the “c” to a “k” to give it more aggressiveness. The silent “s” was also removed because it did not follow through with Parkour’s principle of efficiency. David Belle started out at the age of 15 with his friend Sébastien Foucan. Sébastien Foucan has since founded a new branch of Parkour known as Free Running.
Philosophy of Parkour
Parkour’s basic goal is to move from point A to point B as efficiently and quickly as possible. What? Yes, it’s true, while we like to believe that mind-blowing acrobatics and flamboyance is the name of the game, the true essence is to move unhindered by obstacles and anything that may come in one’s way. Since we live in an urban environment surrounded by buildings and parks and bridges, this has come to be the playground for parkour enthusiasts and practitioners. Parkour involves utilizing efficient but physically challenging movements to pass obstacles in urban landscapes. For the modern artist and designer, there are lessons here to learn from this physical art form as outlined below.
The Journey – Surprise and Spontaneity
Movements are usually dangerous such as jumping from structure to structure and scaling walls. Some activities involve jumping down from structures that are over twenty feet in height. Every parkour practitioner, also known as “traceurs” go through injury in the course of their activities, many are severe. The high risk involved in parkour could be deadly, but it is a risk that traceurs are willing to take. In the visual arts, we as artists and designers must be willing to change our ideas and bull-headed beliefs if they act as obstacles to our path of growth and evolution. Many a time, we tend to limit ourselves to our text book learnings or adopted schools of thought. We must learn to treat each new endeavor as a new beginning and a new path that must be tackled as per the unique challenges offered by it, rather than use a single and close minded approach to our goal. The Taoist philosophy of ‘Journey over Destination’ is best exemplifies in the physical art of Parkour and an important lesson to draw. How often do we enjoy the process of creation instead of the gloating in the glory of accomplishment?
Competition is Overrated
Traceurs endear to preserve parkour’s philosophy against sport competition and rivalry. In the words of Erwan (Hebertiste), “Competition pushes people to fight against others for the satisfaction of a crowd and/or the benefits of a few business people by changing its mindset. Parkour is unique and cannot be a competitive sport if it ignores its altruistic core to self development. If parkour becomes a sport, it will be hard to seriously teach and spread parkour as a non-competitive activity. And a new sport will be spread that may be called parkour, but that won’t hold its philosophy’s essence anymore.” I have sincerely held this belief to be true and found myself to be a far more level-headed and peaceful individual for it. When we grow as artists, are our minds constantly comparing our growth with that of our peers or paranoid of our juniors overtaking us in the race to be the biggest, baddest designer of all time. Remember, with one eye on the target, you have only one eye to enjoy the surroundings. And if you keep that one free eye to keep tabs on your competitor, well then my friend, you have lost all the beauty and art that makes our beautiful world what it is.
Mind & Body – Yin & Yang
“Traceurs” believe that Parkour is an art and philosophy that cannot be fully understood by those who do not practice Parkour themselves. Parkour involves both mind and physical strength. It takes both imagination and fitness to become successful at Parkour. This is a universal truth that has proven itself since time immemorial. As an artist involved in the visual arts, I often find myself glued to the desk, slobbering over the keyboard or scribbling furiously on my tablet for hours, maybe even days. True, it offers me intense mental stimulation and creative satisfaction, but what of my body? I don’t want to drive you paranoid with ugly tales of RSI, slipped discs and hunched backs, but the duty towards our own bodies is a debt, we must pay. Find an activity you loved as a li’ll child and adopt it into your life today. Play football, climb a tree, trek up a hill, swim, wrestle, box or just run down the street! Whatever you choose, get your ass off that chair and move it!
Anywhere and Anyhow
Parkour has no fixed playgrounds or arena. The world is your arena holds truth when referring to Parkour. Just as Parkour practitioners use any environment to practice their art form, visual artists can learn to outgrow their self imposed limitations of a comfort zone in which to work by going outdoors and working perhaps? This principle can be applied at an even deeper level where the very process of creation can be challenged to offer more spontaneous output. We are not strangers to this as we may think. How often have we stumbled on ideas scribbled at a coffee table or walk in the park or even a particular scene in a movie that was otherwise mundane and mediocre. It is up to us to nurture this attribute of going with the flow and being in a state of readiness to absorb ideas and inspiration as it flashes past us at breakneck speeds!
The Bare Minimum
Practitioners of Parkour spend little money to practice parkour and normally train wearing light casual clothing. However, since parkour is closely related to méthode naturelle, sometimes practitioners train barefooted to be able to move efficiently without depending on their gear. As David Belle says “bare feet are the best shoes!” This is possibly the most important lesson to derive, since our generation of artists have grown to be dependent on digital technology and it’s benefits. Just to remain true to our innate joy of creation, let us push aside our fancy tools for a moment and play with ideas, scribble in notebooks, doodle with crayons, spread chalk on blackboards and maybe even draw patterns in the sand.. watching as the waves wash it away!