PARK­OUR ON THE UP

France - - Contents -

See how the French run­ning and jump­ing pur­suit has be­come a global phe­nom­e­non.

So what ex­actly is park­our? Is it a sport? Or is it art? Af­ter 20 years of main­stream ex­po­sure, it feels like park­our is still hard to pin down. What is cer­tain is that it has be­come one of France’s big­gest cul­tural ex­ports, with mil­lions of devo­tees ad­dicted to its off­beat ethos that strad­dles not only phys­i­cal ex­cel­lence and en­deav­our, but spir­i­tual and eth­i­cal di­men­sions that take it be­yond the reach of tra­di­tional sport.

For the unini­ti­ated, the eas­i­est way to de­scribe park­our is as a body-fo­cused train­ing dis­ci­pline that re­lies on move­ment, strength, agility and tim­ing for its ef­fect. Park­our par­tic­i­pants run, climb, swing, jump and roll their way around what are mostly, though not ex­clu­sively, ur­ban ar­eas. There is no spe­cific equip­ment. You use what is to hand to move around in a way that brings the hu­man body into har­mony with the man-made en­vi­ron­ment in which it finds it­self. Steps and rail­ings, walls and build­ings are all tools to be used. Per­haps the eas­i­est way to think of park­our is as a mar­tial art with­out an op­po­nent and with­out com­bat.

The name de­rives from par­cours du com­bat­tant, the French term for ob­sta­cle course, and its ori­gins lie in the the­o­ries of a French naval of­fi­cer, Ge­orges Hébert. On his trav­els in the early part of the 20th cen­tury, he no­ticed that in­dige­nous tribes in Africa had nat­u­rally de­vel­oped su­perb ath­letic skills per­fectly adapted to their en­vi­ron­ment. Work­ing as a phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion tu­tor in Reims, Hébert be­gan work­ing on what he termed ‘ la méth­ode na­turelle’, which he al­lied to a spe­cially de­signed par­cours du com­bat­tant that went on to be­come stan­dard equip­ment in mil­i­tary fit­ness train­ing.

His ideas were taken up by Ray­mond Belle, who was born in 1939 in Viet­nam – then a colony of France – to a French doc­tor and a Viet­namese mother. Ray­mond’s fa­ther died dur­ing the First In­dochina War (1945-1954); he was sep­a­rated from his mother and ended up in a mil­i­tary or­phan­age at the age of seven.

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