Parkour or Freerunning? A Note on Terminology

Parkour or Freerunning? A Note on Terminology

A Note on Terminology.

Words are not things, and labels and titles more often confuse than clarify. This has never been truer than with the parkour, which is wholly experiential in nature – something that must be practised to be understood, not discussed or categorized. However, ease of communication demands that we give names to things and as such there are terms, more or less universally accepted, for this most indefinable of practices.

The first and perhaps most accurate name for the discipline was, in French, l’Art du Deplacement: ‘the Art of Displacement’. In 1998 the word ‘parkour’ came into being to describe the discipline, first used by David Belle, one of the original practitioners, and deriving from the French word parcours meaning ‘route’ or ‘course’. Then in 2003, when art du deplacement was first properly introduced to a global audience in the seminal Channel 4 documentary, ‘Jump London’, it was thought that an English term should be utilised in order to communicate better this amazing new concept to an English-speaking audience – this responsibility fell to Guillaume Pelletier, involved in the production as representing the French practitioners, who thus coined the term ‘freerunning’.

These two terms, Freerunning and Parkour, have since become the most widely used to refer to this one discipline, and this has created various misinterpretations attempting to define them as separate practices. In fact they are all different names for one art: the Art of Displacement. In a sense this multiplicity of names is analogous to the versatility of the art itself, which moulds and shapes itself afresh to each new practitioner depending on his or her anatomy, his or her mentality, and his or her strengths and weaknesses.

With this in mind, we tend to utilise all three names interchangeably to refer to the practice. It is our hope in doing so that people will be encouraged not to attach any great significance to these simple labels and may instead come to focus on what actually matters: the practice.

Similarly, while practitioners are encouraged to think of the methods and movements of parkour not as regimented patterns of forms, there is of course a need to give roughly descriptive names to these movements. The commonly recognised signature movements of parkour have been named in both French and English as the art has progressed. So it is that a Saut de Chat (cat jump) has become known as Monkey or Kong Vault in English and a Saut de Bras (arm jump) as a Cat-Leap. The French names are usually far more accurate in describing the movement and so we encourage the learning and use of these terms wherever possible.

However, parkour is not a discipline predicated on the acquisition of certain set techniques, and thus to spend more than a moment quibbling over the ‘proper’ names for such would be an irony it is best, and easier, to avoid. We use both names when it comes to describing the movements themselves and leave it to the practitioner to decide which he or she prefers to utilise. Use them as general guides in communication but put them aside in terms of importance. Your movement is your own – no one can label it for you.

Les Traceurs?

The term traceur is now widely used to mean a practitioner of parkour.  It derives from the French verb tracer, meaning ‘to draw or trace’ (as in to trace a line across a surface), which a small group of practitioners including Stephane Vigroux, David Belle and Steve ‘Kazuma’ Rognoni used to name their early group Les Tracers. The name was taken on by others and, over time, has fallen into common usage to refer to any practitioner of the discipline. A feminine version of the noun, traceuse, has also arisen. 

Language is fluid, and a living thing. It is a tool to aid communication, not to hinder it – though one could be forgiven for thinking otherwise when looking at much of the history of human literature. It is in this spirit of facilitating ease of communication that we consider the French and English words interchangeable in reference to the art of displacement and its practitioners.

As Alfred Korzybski, the acclaimed founder of General Semantics, was fond of saying, ‘the word is not the thing’. At Parkour Generations we are interested in the ‘thing’, not the ‘word’.