Parkour is about movement. Not just any movement. “It’s about moving through an environment (natural or urban) as smoothly, efficiently and quickly as possible.” It involves walking, running, jumping, crawling, climbing and balancing. It is about interacting with the environment as you move fluidly through it, overcoming obstacles as you go.
Before World War I, former naval officer Georges Hébert traveled throughout the world. During a visit to Africa, he was impressed by the physical development and skills of indigenous tribes that he met:
“ Their bodies were splendid, flexible, nimble, skillful, enduring, and resistant but yet they had no other tutor in gymnastics but their lives in nature.” —Georges Hébert
Inspired by indigenous tribes, Hébert became a physical education tutor at the college of Reims in France. He began to define the principles of his own system of physical education and to create various apparatuses and exercises to teach his méthode naturelle which he defined as:
“ Methodical, progressive and continuous action, from childhood to adulthood, that has as its objective: assuring integrated physical development; increasing organic resistances; emphasizing aptitudes across all genres of natural exercise and indispensable utilities (walking, running, jumping, quadrupedal movement, climbing, equilibrium (balancing), throwing, lifting, defending and swimming); developing one's energy and all other facets of action or virility such that all assets, both physical and virile, are mastered; one dominant moral idea: altruism.”—Georges Hébert
The fathers of Parkour are in fact father and son. Raymond Belle was a French national born in Vietnam. He was educated in the French military, and also became an acclaimed fire fighter. He won many honours for physical fitness including rope climbing, and was also honoured for rescues and acts of bravery as a fire fighter.
His exposure to the physical training method of George Hébert almost certainly came from his time in the French military in Vietnam and France. The French military had devised a regime of obstacle course training around Hebert’s method called “ parcours du combattant ”.
Raymond Belle’s son David Belle was heavily influenced by both the heroic stories told by his grandfather, and the achievements of his father who introduced him to Hébert's method of physical training.
David also served briefly in the fire service and French military, then in his late teens moved to a commune in Lisses, a suburb of Paris. One of the landmarks in Lisses is the climbing structure in the centre of the park, the Dame Du Lac which has become somewhat of a pilgrimage site for Parkour practitioners called Traceurs
In Lisses, David found others with the same interest and passion for physical training. They formed a group called Yamakasi. The group consisted of Yann Hnautra, Chau Belle, David Belle, Laurent Piemontesi, Sebastain Foucan, Guylain N'Guba Boyeke, Charles Perriere, Malik Diouf and Williams Belle . These individuals are widely regarded as the forefathers of Parkour , with David Belle as the protagonist.