Parkour / Freerunning / Art du Déplacement is primarily a non-competitive physical discipline of training to move freely over and through any terrain using only the abilities of the body, mainly through running, jumping, climbing, swinging, rolling, and quadrupedal movement. In practice, it focuses on developing the fundamental attributes required for such movement, which include functional strength and fitness, balance, spatial awareness, agility, coordination, precision, control and creative vision.
It is a discipline that encourages self-improvement on all levels, revealing one’s physical and mental limits and at the same time offering ways to manage them in a sustainable manner. It is a method of training one’s body, mind and spirit in order to be as functional, effective and liberated as possible in any environment, be it physical, mental or spiritual.
Parkour, as a discipline, aims to help one develop confidence, determination, self-discipline and self-reliance, and responsibility for their actions. It encourages humility, respect for others and for one’s environment, self-expression, community spirit, and the importance of play, discovery and safety at all times.
Do note that the above definition is by and large one that Parkour community members can conventionally agree upon when describing it as a sport or physical activity, and certainly not comprehensive. As an artistic, philosophical, deeply personal and constantly evolving practice, Parkour often means different things to different practitioners, and words may not sufficiently describe its meaning. Perhaps the best way to find out what Parkour means is to practise it.
The practice of Art Du Déplacement (ADD) or Art Of Movement was born in the suburbs of Paris in the 1980s, amongst a group of young people connected by friendship and family: Chau Belle, David Belle, Williams Belle, Yann Hnautra, Laurent Piemontesi, Guylain Boyeke, Charles Perrière, Sébastien Foucan and Malik Diouf.
At first they played together with tests of their strength and agility. Over time, in a spirit of mutual encouragement and emulation to grow stronger and go further beyond their limits, they developed a rigorous training system of specific exercises and targeted techniques to prepare themselves for feats requiring increasingly higher levels of physical and mental mastery.
As time went on, the group divided over different interests and three related threads of the discipline emerged — Art Du Déplacement (ADD by the Yamakasi), Freerunning (established by Sebastian Foucan), and Parkour (named by David Belle when he split from the original group).
The term ‘Parkour’ was first introduced by David Belle in 1998. Parkour derives from the French word Parcours meaning ‘route’ or ‘course’.
The term ‘Freerunning’ was created by Guillaume Pelletier, a representative of a group of French practitioners involved in the production of a Channel 4 documentary, Jump London, in 2003. This term was used in order to introduce this new discipline or sport to an English-speaking audience.
The risks of getting injured in Parkour is about the same as, or probably even lower than, any typical sport you know (e.g basketball, soccer, etc.) But there are some crucial differences. Parkour actually teaches you how to be safe. And it is a discipline where you have more control, since you are knowingly working with inanimate structures, rather than with other unpredictably moving humans like in conventional competitive sports.
The philosophy of Parkour is encompasses learning how to manage and control yourself in response to the environment. It encourages moving safely, effectively, and efficiently. It encourages understanding where your physical limits are and having the discipline to refrain from doing dangerous stunts where it is not necessary.
It encourages understanding the risk of failure – and how to manage or mitigate it.
Furthermore, one of the values of Parkour / Freerunning / Art du Déplacement is “To be and to last”. This value is about training to ensure longevity in the practice, and making sure that one can continue moving even when they are 80, 90 or even 100 years old.
One of the key fundamentals of Parkour is the Ukemi (also known as the art of falling.) Through learning Ukemi, Parkour students are able to practise safe, intentional, deliberate falls that reprogram the brain to react optimally in the scenario where falls occur.
The short answer to the question? Parkour is as safe or dangerous as you allow it to be.