While David Belle is unquestionably known as the original innovator and spiritual figurehead of parkour, the discipline’s origins can be traced directly back to his father, Raymond, and his time as a child in Vietnam. Though details surrounding Raymond’s early life are rather hazy, it’s generally accepted that he was separated from his parents during the First Indochina War and taken in by the French military in the city of Da Lat as an orphan at just age 7 in 1946. According to later interviews with his son, Raymond was routinely abused as a child, which motivated him to become as physically fit and strong as possible so that he could protect himself and escape danger if it ever presented itself.
While being raised in the Da Lat French military orphanage, Raymond underwent basic military training and education, the former of which he excelled at. As it turns out, Raymond would regularly sneak out at night and secretly use the obstacle course, repeatedly performing the same actions again and again until he’d boiled them down to their most efficient and basic forms.
To test himself, Raymond would also devise his own obstacle courses consisting of objects in the natural environment and attempt to move across them in the quickest manner possible. Because he wasn’t really supposed to be doing this and faced harsh punishment if he was ever caught, Raymond attempted to train in silence, spending countless hours practising how to land without making a sound. Along with learning to be silent, Raymond would throw himself from increasingly dizzying heights to learn to land without hurting himself.
After the culmination of the Indochina war in 1954, Raymond was granted French citizenship and taken back to France where he stayed in military education right up until just before his 19th birthday in 1958.
After graduating, he decided to put his athletic skills to good use and become a member of the Paris military fire-fighting regiment (known in France as the sapeurs-pompiers).
It was during his training with the Paris fire service that Raymond is said to have encountered the teachings of one Georges Hébert, a famed physical education expert who also happened to be the original inventor of the military obstacle courses Raymond had used to hone his body and skills in his youth.