Thus far, I have almost exclusively used the term ‘parkour’ (right down to the title of this blog), but ‘freerunning’ is another, related term, and sometimes they are used interchangeably . However, within their respective communities, there are recognized nuances between them, and I wanted to delve into this a bit further.
As far as some practitioners are concerned, parkour and freerunning have the same referential target of interacting with the urban environment in new and novel ways. More stringent definitions, however, distinguish the two disciplines based on differing primary motivations for movement, origin, and philosophy.
Disclaimer: Distinguishing the two disciplines is not something that the communities really like to talk about, and this point of contention often leads to debate. This post is purely a component of my understanding, and I have no real opinion on the matter.
Parkour is often described as a movement discipline in which trainers develop physical and mental strength in order to navigate from point A to point B in a complex urban environment as quickly and efficiently as possible. Comparatively, freerunning, while also a discipline of movement, focuses on the art of movement, so to speak, and the creativity with which trainers can explore their environment. Thus freerunning often features flips and acrobatics, while parkour focuses on the natural movements of running, jumping, and climbing.
The two disciplines may also be distinguished by their origins. The movements of parkour are rooted in parcours du combattant, that is, military obstacle course training. Conversely, freerunning is the brainchild and English translation of parkour first used by Sébastien Foucan, one of the original nine trainers of parkour who brought the discipline to the UK, and emphasizes self-expression and the development of self-confidence through physical and mental training.
Lastly, parkour and freerunning differ in their philosophies and mindsets, an aspect of the movement disciplines that is not often discussed outside of their respective communities. Parkour focuses on overcoming and adapting to both mental obstacles and physical barriers, optimizing efficiency of time and energy. A more recent element of parkour philosophy is reclaiming what it means to be a human being and augmenting the natural movements developed from infancy, referred to as “human reclamation.” In contrast, freerunning personalizes movement, making it a subjective experience in an objective environment.
In short, the main distinction between parkour and freerunning is efficiency vs artistry. While both are intense full-body physical pursuits, the former focuses on efficient movement from point A to point B, and the latter prioritizes creative expression and freedom to move in unique ways. However, the communities are very much interleaved, and there appears to be a sense of camaraderie between trainers of both disciplines. Trainers of parkour and freerunning may train together, and may train both disciplines, bringing elements of each into their movements and influencing the changing semantics around the disciplines.
Until next time, in the words of Alister O’Loughlin, “when you work with Parkour you can work simultaneously in the imagination and real world and that’s quite a rare thing to find outside of the arts.”