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Parkour Vs. Freerunning

By James Holloway
A man is practicing parkour.

Parkour and freerunning are two related but different forms of urban athletics. In both, practitioners run, climb and jump to move through an area, which is often a landscape crowded with obstacles. The two activities share many techniques, but have different goals and philosophies.

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French athlete David Belle, together with a group of associates, developed the discipline of parkour in Paris in the 1990s. Parkour, the name of which derives from a French word meaning "route," is a system of movement that takes the most direct route between two points. Parkour was developed in urban environments. Most traceurs, as they're called, practice in these environments. This route can involve leaping over obstacles, climbing walls, or traveling along rooftops. Parkour practitioners value spatial awareness, efficiency of movement and a knowledge of the urban landscape.


The term "freerunning" was coined by Sebastien Foucan and was originally meant to describe parkour to an English-speaking audience. However, the term eventually developed to mean a somewhat different discipline that combined the techniques of parkour with acrobatics and gymnastics. Freerunners prize creativity, self-expression and the ability to improvise.


Parkour and freerunning share a common origin. Many of the specific techniques of jumping and climbing exist in both parkour and freerunning. Both also emphasize awareness of the environment. Traceurs and freerunners operate in similar environments. Organizations involved with one are often involved with both. For example, the Parkour and Freerunning Awards celebrate both disciplines. Making the distinction between parkour and freerunning can often be tricky.


The fundamental difference between parkour and freerunning is one of philosophy. Parkour's philosophy is more utilitarian than that of freerunning. In a 2007 interview with "The New Yorker," David Belle explained that parkour should be useful, calling it "a very different mind-set from just doing things to look good." By contrast, freerunning has a more playful, performance-oriented philosophy, in which flips and jumps can be a form of self-expression. The individual's desires and freedom are considered more important than strict rules.

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About the Author

Dr James Holloway has been writing about games, geek culture and whisky since 1995. A former editor of "Archaeological Review from Cambridge," he has also written for Fortean Times, Fantasy Flight Games and The Unspeakable Oath. A graduate of Cambridge University, Holloway runs the blog Gonzo History Gaming.

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