Parkour has become a thriving scene in the UK and indeed worldwide in the past 10 or so years.
Parkour videos have gone viral around the globe, the likes of the real life parkour Assassin’s Creed series and the ‘Best of freerunning and parkour’ vid which has only racked up over 70 million views. Parkour fails have been gaining a rather practicably large amount of views online also.
Parkour athletes like David Belle, Sebastien Foucan and James Kingston have become famous, and the sport of parkour has become something that it’s no real surprise to hear about on a day-to-day basis, in conversation or on the news or online.
While very few people will no longer ask the question ‘What is parkour?’ though, one topic does seem to linger largely around the sport, confusing the general public, confusing the internet and probably quite frustrating a lot of the professionals.
That line of questioning? What is the difference between parkour and freerunning? Is there any difference between parkour and freerunning? Why do some people shout at me on the internet when I say that I don’t know the difference between parkour and freerunning?
Parkour vs. Freerunning: According to the Governing Body of the UK
Well, you may be relieved, or even more baffled, to learn that according to Parkour UK, the national governing body of the sport of parkour in the UK, there is no difference. Seriously.
We spoke to Dan Edwardes of leading parkour company Parkour Generations, an Elected Director on the board of Parkour UK and one of the key figures of parkour in London and beyond, and asked him to clear up that most confusing of questions.
He told us, “Freerunning was simply a translation of the French word ‘parkour’ for a 2003 documentary called Jump London [so it would be easier to understand for the English-speaking audience].
“The term freerunning has since been misunderstood to mean a different or offshoot discipline, but historically they are simply different names for the same discipline, or movement."
That’ll be why when you read up about parkour and parkour history on the Parkour UK website, they pretty much say Parkour/Freerunning every time they mention the sport.
The Parkour Generations website also states: “Freerunning and Parkour have become the most widely used terms 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... 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."
So there you have it, the official lowdown on the difference between parkour and freerunning is in fact, nothing. There is no difference. Freerunning is just a translation of the word parkour, which in turn comes from the French word ‘parcours’ meaning route or course.
Parkour vs. Freerunning: The Modern Interpretation
So, why do so many people mistake parkour and freerunning for different things? Well, to get started on that, it’s useful to really define parkour first.
The Parkour UK definition states that it is “the non-competitive physical discipline of training to move freely over and through any terrain using only the abilities of the body, principally through running, jumping, climbing and quadrupedal movement.
"In practice it focused on developing the fundamental attributes required for such movement, which including functional strength and fitness, balance, spatial awareness, agility, coordination, precision, control and creative vision."
Okay, so that’s that cleared up. If you’re going to take away one definition of parkour/freerunning from this article, take that one. Remember, they are the same thing. Well, mostly.
So, keeping that in mind, let’s talk about why people refer to freerunning and parkour as different things. Basically, it’s because different people started interpreting the above discipline of parkour in different ways and implementing its laws for different use. What that meant was that there became different branches of parkour, and freerunning was a tag stuck on one of them.
For many, parkour is the physical activity of getting creatively and logically from one place to another as efficiently as possible. This may involve overcoming physical barriers on any given route, and sees you use the environment around you as practically as it possibly can be. That word ‘practical’ is key here. In this meaning of parkour, practicality and speed are the focal points.
In this same line of definition, freerunning is then the sport of choosing a line through an environment, often urban, and travelling through it, again efficiently and creatively, but with a lot more emphasis on self-expression and movements done purely for aesthetic value. Freerunning combines gymnastics and aerobatics with the movements traditionally seen as ‘parkour’.
Basically, whereas in parkour you would be travelling from A to B as quickly as possible, overcoming whatever was in your way, in freerunning, if there was a start point and end point at all, you would travel between them using flips, jumps and taking detours onto routes where you can implement a movement that although not practical for the route, looks, well, awesome.
Parkour is the kind of thing you’d see in a movie action scene chase. Freerunning is the kind of thing you’d see in a Red Bull competition – like Art of Motion – or from the guys at Team Farang like Jason Paul.
The Final Verdict
If there’s one thing you should have learned by this point in the article though, it’s that parkour and freerunning are the same thing. They are both terms that are used to express the art of movement creatively and practically in any given environment.
While the terms officially stand for the same thing, there is a difference in the modern world over the styles they represent. So, now what to do next? Search some parkour classes, look out your parkour shoes, get involved in the scene and feel confident next time you’re talking about the difference, or lack thereof, between freerunning and parkour.
If someone tries to knowledge you for using one of the phrases where the other may be more applicable in the social, common-modern sense, tell them that “freerunning was actually only a term invented to describe parkour to the English audiences for a 2003 Channel 4 documentary," and then watch as they bow to your encyclopaedic knowledge.