In 2017, the UK became the first country in the world to recognise parkour as an official sport. This shows just how far the discipline has come in the past few years. Whether you’re interested in taking up parkour as a hobby, or you’d just like to learn more about it, we’ve prepared this beginner’s guide. Going through the history of the sport, we’ll give you an insight into how you can get into it and what it takes to get started.

What is parkour?

If you’ve seen Casino Royale you’ll probably remember the famous chase scene where James Bond pursues a bomb maker through the streets of Madagascar. During this scene, the villain uses the athletic techniques of parkour. Additionally, if you’ve played video games like Assassin’s Creed that you’ll have a decent understanding of the sport.

Pronounced ‘par-core’, the sport combines all sorts of athletic activities – sprinting, climbing, and jumping – generally in urban environments. It can be truly jaw-dropping to watch and a lot of fun to take part in, so if it’s something you think you’d be interested in, it can be worth taking the next step and finding somewhere to take a training session.

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Are parkour and freerunning the same thing?

The words ‘parkour’ and ‘freerunning’ are often used interchangeably – and it may appear that there is no difference between the two. However, it should be noted that there are some slight differences between the two concepts. It’s true that many of the moves, physical actions and ultimate goals of the two are the same; the difference generally comes down to the philosophy of the practitioners.

Parkour places an emphasis on the efficiency of moves and trying to understand the most effective ways to navigate a certain piece of terrain. Freerunning was created by early parkour innovator Sebastien Foucan, who incidentally played that bomb maker in the Casino Royale chase scene. The philosophy of freerunning focuses more on artistic and acrobatic moves as a form of self-expression.

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History of parkour

Parkour has its origins in military training exercises, but it wasn’t until the 1980s when French teenager David Belle and a group of friends began experimenting with the techniques in urban environments. The word ‘parkour’ was first used in 1998 and as derived from the French word ‘parcours’ which means ‘course’.

There was significant disagreement between the early practitioners over exactly what form parkour should take – some saw it as a test of physical abilities while others viewed the movements to be an activity driven through community spirit and developing self-confidence. Today, parkour is a non-competitive activity that encourages the free movement across any kind of terrain, utilising all forms of running, jumping and climbing.

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How to get involved

If you want to give parkour a try, your first step could be to get in contact with a local parkour group. Most cities and many towns around the UK have parkour organisations as well as informal groups and getting advice and help from these people can be invaluable. Another option is to take part in a parkour taster session that can give you a full introduction to the sport. Companies like Into the Blue offer parkour training classes that provide practical instructions in vaulting climbing and jumping.

Take it slowly at first. There’s no reason to put yourself in a situation that you are comfortable with or feel prepare for – one of parkour’s key principles is understanding your own limitations. And remember that parkour is far easier if you’re in good physical condition, so it can be worth taking some time to get in shape to help you out.

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Understanding the risks

Another key thing to remember with parkour is that while the sport encourages the highest levels of care and safety, there is an element of risk taking part in these activities. Serious injuries are rare because parkour participants tend work within their limits and device strategies to do things safely. It’s also worth pointing out that as parkour is most often practiced in urban surroundings, there can be legal ramifications for carrying out these activities on private property. In general, responsible parkour philosophy dictates that you should respect the spaces you use and leave any area you use in the same (or better) state than when you found it.

This article was written by Olivia Blake.