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Parkour, also known as “Freerunning,” is a type of physical training in which practitioners navigate through and clear obstacles by using a variety of methods, including running, climbing, jumping and balancing. Since being popularized in the early 2000s, footage of parkour enthusiasts have been featured in advertisements, films and are often uploaded to video-sharing sites like YouTube.
“Parkour” comes from the French word “le parcours,” which was coined by French soldier Raymond Belle in reference to “parcours du combattant,” a type of military obstacle course developed by French physical educator Georges Hébert and inspired by the athleticism of indigenous African tribes. In 1988, Raymond Belle’s son David began turning his father’s physical fitness training into the parkour discipline in Lisses, France.
According to Wikipedia, parkour received national recognition after a French television program aired footage of Belle’s parkour group in the late 1990s. In September of 2003, the term “freerunning” was coined by Sébastien Foucan to introduce parkour to the English-speaking world during the filming of the documentary Jump London. Also in 2003, former boxer Paul Corkery founded the UK-based clothing company Urban Freeflow, which claims to be the “first ever brand of parkour & freerunning.” On September 19th, 2005, the website American Parkour was launched, which features a community forum, event calendars, parkour directories, a clothing store, instructional resources and media.
Parkour videos began spreading online in the early 2000s, prior to the launch of the video-sharing site YouTube. One of the earliest was highlighted on MSN, featuring footage of two parkour practitioners climbing walls and jumping across roof tops (shown below, left). The earliest known parkour video on YouTube was uploaded by user mrWoot on September 2nd, 2005, featuring several different men performing parkour tricks outdoors and inside a shopping mall (shown below, right). Within the next seven years, the video received over 40 million views, 168,000 up votes and 89,000 comments.
On February 4th, 2006, YouTuber Kamikazeepanda uploaded a video titled “Evolution – Le parkour,” featuring members of the United Kingdom parkour team 3Run (shown below, left). The video accumulated over 16.6 million views, 11.900 comments and 40,700 up votes within seven years. On June 7th, YouTuber sauloca uploaded footage of several men doing parkour and freerunning (shown below, right). Within the next seven years, the video received over 35.7 million views and 92,800 up votes.
On April 30th, 2010, British stuntman Damien Walters uploaded a montage of freerunning stunts to YouTube (shown below). On May 1st, Redditor Nick4753 submitted the video to the /r/reddit.com subreddit, where it received over 3,800 up votes and 790 comments prior to being archived. Within the next three years, the video accumulated over 19 million views and 32,000 comments.
As of January 2013, there are over 621,000 search results for the keyword “parkour” on YouTube.
A significant portion of parkour videos on YouTube include “FAIL” compilations, which feature clips of parkour practitioners failing to complete their stunts (shown below). As of January 2013, there are over 53,500 search results for the keywords “parkour fail” on YouTube.
On September 16th, 2007, the Australian television program 60 Minutes broadcast a segment on parkour, which referred to the training as “skateboarding without skates” (shown below).
Several films have incorporated parkour into action sequences, including the film District B13 released on November 10th, 2005, featuring parkour founder David Belle as the protagonist Leïto (shown below, left). On November 12th, 2008, the action-adventure game Mirror’s Edge was released, which included parkour-inspired gameplay involving jumping off rooftops, negotiating obstacles and climbing walls (shown below, right).