The earliest form of Parkour in history was defined by Georges Hebert, a naval officer in the French army who served both during World War I and World War II. Because he was a soldier, he often traveled to Africa, where he was impressed by the efficient, flowing athletic movements of most of the African tribes he visited. After he had returned to France, he began to develop a method of natural movement for officers serving in the military, in which both men and women were trained to move efficiently and fluently around a wide variety of obstacles in their path. The discipline called “méthode naturelle” started to be regularly taught in the military, setting the stage for the later development of Parkour.
The most well-known founding figure of Parkour is David Belle, who learned about the méthode naturelle discipline by his father back in the 1980s. The group he trained in came up with the term “parkour,” which came from “parcours du combattant“, an obstacle course used to train soldiers of the French military. Parkour is also acknowledged as “l’art du déplacement“, which French for “the art of displacement,” and some people just call it “PK.” A person who practices Parkour is generally known as a traceur, or a traceuse if she is female.
The purpose of Parkour is about getting from one place to another in the most efficient manner possible. In theory, parkour is about learning to navigate obstacles quickly in an emergency situation. Parkour trainings allow people to negotiate obstacles on an individual basis and decide on the best method for getting passed them, based on the type of obstacle, the physical abilities of the traceur, and the situation. There is an emphasis on fluid, limber movements, and training sometimes includes instruction in the martial arts.
This discipline began to fall into the mainstream in the 1990s, when some films were made about Parkour history and its philosophy. Some practitioners have expressed unhappiness with the growing popularity of the sport, especially since Parkour can be dangerous if it is practiced by someone who has not received appropriate training. The training includes flying leaps, jumps, and other physically demanding moves which can look terribly flashy, but also be risky.
If you are interested in seeing parkour in action, many capital cities have Parkour teams that perform periodic demonstrations. These groups also provide training in parkour to persons who are interested in learning more about the discipline. Parkour is certainly a refreshing and sometimes hugely enjoyable way to get active and build a better relationship with your own body and the environment around you; why jog on the streets when you can fly through an obstacle course through your own city?