WHAT IS PARKOUR?
Parkour is a physical activity based on moving freely in your environment.
The word parkour derives from ‘parcours du combattant’ – the historical obstacle course fitness method used in military training.
Parkour originated in the late 1980s in France when a teenager, David Belle, took the exercises and physical stunts he had seen his Dad perform from his career in the military including fighting in the Vietnam War. David initially trained on his own but soon attracted others who shared similar values and they formed a group known as the Yamakasi – a word taken from the Lingala language, it can translate to ‘strong in body, spirit, or person’. Childhood games of movement were turned into a maniacal quest to find physical and mental limits, with members of the group often sneaking out late at night or skipping school to train. The search to test their limits and to see what was physically possible, became a way for the young men, who mostly came from impoverished backgrounds, to find themselves in the world as they grew into adulthood. The group’s incredible exploits of gravity defying stunts attracted media attention and in the 1990s and 2000s parkour was popularised through movies, documentaries and advertisements. The media attention led to a split of the original group and, largely due to the emergence of social media and video sharing websites, parkour sky-rocketed around the world.
Parkour is partly akin to the rebelliousness of skateboarding, the physicality of gymnastics… but parkour is its own activity that is notoriously difficult to define. It takes a physical base and meshes it with a youth and street culture. Parkour takes primal human movements – such as running, jumping, crawling, etc – along with creative movements – such as tricking, acrobatics, etc - and uses them in a modern, urban environment.
Why Do Parkour?
It’s just plain fun to move. In parkour you get to pretend the ground is lava, to climb trees, to balance on rails, to explore new places, to have fun moving your body in different ways. Human beings love to move, it’s innate, but in modern life we’ve often lost this joy. Today, we often spend too much time sitting, being inactive, or moving incorrectly – parkour is a way to rediscover movement and the health benefits that come from moving functionally.
In parkour, you get to play in an open world game: you can create, find and conquer new routes that’ve never been completed before, you can explore places that few people get to see, you can create your own style of movement or even create your own moves. Once you start seeing the world through parkour-eyes, architecture becomes a canvas for physical art.
As a self-determined discipline, parkour is all about facing your own internal fears, and then literally jumping over them. You’ll overcome barriers, you’ll breakthrough plateaus, you’ll achieve jumps you never thought you were capable of. Progress can be measured as you jump further, land softer, and move faster. You’ll gain confidence from knowing that in emergencies you can reach and escape from situations that would trap others. Furthermore, you’ll be able to express your freedom physically by moving through spaces that would restrict or injure others.
You’ll build fitness, strength, flexibility, body awareness, and confidence. Parkour builds advanced core strength, balance and coordination. By learning to navigate environments in all planes of motion, parkour training creates a general body awareness that can carry over to advanced practice in other sports, or injury prevention in wider life.
While it can be practiced solo, it’s normal to practice parkour in groups. Wellington has a community of dedicated practitioners who meet every week to practice. Whether in dedicated training sessions, freeflow “jam” sessions, or strength and conditioning sessions. Parkour gatherings are organised around the country, including WellyJelly, the New Zealand National Gathering, and the Jamzac parkour competition.
Parkour requires no specialised equipment. Compared to many other sports which require expensive and specialised equipment, only shoes are recommended for practicing parkour... and even then it can even be practiced without shoes if you desire. All you need is a body and an environment. In parkour, the world becomes your playground!