In 1902, a catastrophic volcanic eruption destroyed the town of St. Pierre on the Caribbea island of Martinique, getting lives of 28,000 people in a flash. A young French Naval deputy, George Hebert valiantly coordinated the evacuation of over 700 people, both indigenous and European, from the boundary of the town. The experience had an intense effect on him. As he watched people move in those decisive moments, it seemed like indigenous people overcome the obstacles on their way with fluency and creativity, which the Europeans moved badly, finding familiar pathway which now no longer exists. In that moment, it cleared for him that “modern man” had lost the ability to move efficiently in all but the most routine environments. Additionally, the heroism and tragedy he witnessed on that day reinforced his belief that, to be the actual value, athletic skill and physical conditioning must be united with courage and altruism, a realization which gave rise to the original motto of parkour, “Etre fort pour être utile” – “Be strong to be useful.”
Extensive travelling, Hebert continued to be impressed by the physical development and movement skills of indigenous people in Africa and elsewhere. Based on these inspections, Hebert formulated and created a physical training discipline that he called “the natural method” which is using climbing, running, swimming and man-made obstacle courses to recreate the natural environment.
Hebert’s “Natural Method” soon became the core for all French military training, and the first organized obstacle course training in the modern era. Inspired by his work, units of the French Special Forces in the 1950’s further developed Hebert’s work into what came to be known as “parcours du combattant.”, or “the path of the warrior”.
Years past, Raymond Belle, a fireman and veteran of the French special Forces, came back to his hometown of Lisses on the border of Paris, where he introduced and launched the discipline of parcours du combatant and the teachings of Hebert to his young son David and a group of David’s close friends, who then set out to adapt Raymond’s teachings to their “natural setting” giving born to what we know now as “Parkour”.
Belle and his best friend, Sebastian Foucan established a group of “`traceurs” (the original term for Parkour practitioners) which they chose the name “Yamakasi”, after a tribe of warriors in Africa. As the first organized group of traceurs, the “Yamakasi” began to develop in France included with filmmaker Luc Besson. The “Yamakasi” Bessons’s film about the group advanced the growth of Parkour.
It was around this time that a personal split started to develop between Belle and Foucan, in which Foucan eventually going his own way. Foucan Launched the discipline in UK were he chose to name it “Freerunning” rather than “Parkour”. This made confusion and conflict as people started to define Belle’s Parkour as the most efficient way from point A to point B (no flips or acrobatics), and Foucan’s “Freerunning” as the most creative way from A to B which originated influences from other movement disciplines such as break dancing, martial arts tricking and gymnastics. The debate continues to some degree to this day amongst a small community of purists, though Belle himself is known to have used flips in his own practice.