David Belle Parkour book
The founder of parkour, David Belle, has a book. Give it a read for insights into parkour. It’s written as an extended interview in which questions are put to David and he answers them in-depth, at times often rambling off-topic but always revealing more about his remarkable point of view on the world. The only problem is – the book isn’t in English. It was released in 2009 in David’s native language of French. Why it hasn’t been officially translated and released in English is beyond me, as I’m sure there would be a market for it. In the meantime, here are some key insights from it.
The book is split into five sections, which cover things from his father’s influence on his life, to his training, to his experiences working in the movie industry. Overall the book is an exploration of his life, but it also offers interesting details about the development of parkour.
Chiefly, the book sheds lights on how much David was inspired by his father, Raymond Belle. Parkour, in the beginning, was Raymond’s practice – his son just bought it to the world. For David, his parkour was built out of years of searching to understand the path his father took in life and trying to become that same man – to replicate his physical feats. Parkour was thus an intensely personal pursuit for David, a way to become strong like his father whom he greatly admired.
So what was his father’s life like? Raymond was thrown into becoming a Vietnamese child soldier. After this, he was eventually taken to France and found a life as a fire fighter. “For many, nowadays, ” David illuminates, “parkour is something fun but for my father, it was vital – a matter of life or death. This training would help him get tough, survive through war and protect himself against all odds.” Parkour was Raymond’s way of life, a code, a way of training to survive and to help others. He devoted his life to physical accomplishments. At a young age his father was abused, and afterwards he swore to himself he would become strong enough to never let something similar happen to him again. As David describes later in the book, this is what parkour is about – “overcome and not let yourself be overcome.” The reader gets a strong sense that parkour is built out of following his father’s advice and trying to understand his absent father.
David’s childhood, and his early training, was greatly influenced by the values of those in his family who were firefighters – their values of putting themselves in risky situations and needing to overcome them in order to save others. He grew up hearing such things from his father as “What do you want to do with your life? Are you training because you want to become like such athlete who wants to compete, or do you want to do something really different? If you want to be different, then train in an area that will truly be useful, that will enable you to get out of any situation or help someone should anything happen on the street or in a building.” David took this advice to the extreme – often choosing to skip school to train, or sneak out at night when everyone else was in bed to train.
Growing up, David describes not being able to fit in. “I had no other choice than to go on top of those tall apartment buildings. This way, I just erased this block of concrete blocking my view. …I would even discover places that locals themselves didn’t know about. …This is how I overcame the suffocating feeling of suburban districts. As if I had mountains for a landscape and found myself on top of them.” Parkour was a salvation for a kid who didn’t do well in school nor feel like anything else was happening in life. “When I started parkour, I found a way to exist. I wasn’t feeling well in my mind, and I wanted to get back to my true self and listen to my desires and not what others expected of me.”
His father told him many times, “If two roads open up before you, always take the most difficult one. Because you know you can travel the easy one.” Only then, by confronting difficult situations, do you know you can live through them. This philosophy is one of growth and constant self-improvement. Parkour is about finding difficult obstacles and then overcoming them. “And I know, ” says David in the book, “if I had to jump from a balcony because there was a fire, I could do it. Even if I am tired, even after three sleepless nights, I could do it without breaking a leg.” He quotes his father as emphasising the point that “by doing the movements a dozen, a hundred times, trust comes and by doing the same movements over and over again, it becomes automatic.” When we were little, that automatic nature is what we all had to achieve with walking. Parkour then takes learning to move automatically a step further by bringing in jumping and climbing and running and so on.
Parkour was for emergency situations. According to David, “When I was training for parkour, I came up with a million stories to surmount difficult obstacles. A fire, something about to blow up, a relative to rescue, a kid trapped somewhere… It’s as if this emergency state enables me to unlock something in my brain and all of a sudden my vision of the surrounding environment is altered. I have a more accurate perception of things, I can see ways that others don’t and fear is gone. My strength is multiplied, a bit like a mother who finds an incredible strength to rescue their child when there’s an emergency. They don’t think about it when they do it – they don’t ask themselves if they are going to be able to do it or if they have enough strength or if their child is going to die… their only thought is to rescue their child. And so there’s an instant connection between their willpower, their energy and their actions. The same applies to parkour. Training has to lead to an instinctive reaction. When a guy stops and asks too many questions about where to put his feet or hands, I’ve already been across the obstacle.”