The core elements of Parkour were formed through a combination of martial arts techniques, like ninjutsu and qing gong. Elements of Parkour have been practiced by “traceurs” since the 20s. Then, stunt aficionados like Jackie Chan popularized many moves that would eventually come to fall under the sport’s heading. It was not until the 90s, however, that David Belle, a one-time French military man, made his way on to the scene and defined the amazing, unnamed physicality that’s awed so many for so long.
Now, it seems that everywhere we look, from action movies to commercials to national print ad campaigns, Parkour is the universal visual representation of all that is adventurous, strong, resilient and almost superhuman.
You marvel at these athletes’ feats and see flashes of their faces whizzing by, but who are they? Parkour’s not an Olympic sport. There is no universal Parkour league, so how do you know who’s out there? Who is deserving of your cheers and praise? Here are the best Parkour traceurs.
You can’t mention Parkour without talking about David Belle, and we’ve showcased him before in our Parkour by David Belle piece. He’s the point of origin for all that the sport has become. French-born, Belle is part of a long line of militiamen. After serving in France’s miltary and fire brigades and earning recognition as a gymnast and rope-climbing champion, he left the armed forces, held various odd jobs, and even spent a period in India studying Kung Fu. Upon his return, Belle continued a rigorous phyical training regiment and taped a demonstration of his well-developed abilities. That tape got into the hands of some filmmakers who decided to make a documentary about the sport he called “Parkour,” and the rest is history. He’s since been featured in films, commericials and music videos, and is one of international sports’ truest living pioneers.
Talk about a guy who has it all. With 60 million combined views on YouTube, more blockbuster action movie stunt credits than you’d care to count, a 2010 Taurus World Stunt Award trophy and a storied reputation in Parkour, Freerunning, gymnastics and World Championship Trampolining, there’s very little Damien Walters can’t put on his resume. As if these accomplishments weren’t impressive enough, the UK-born former gymnast also runs a training facility out of his native Derbyshire and works there when he’s not Hollywood-bound. Not a bad life, but, before you get too jealous, take a look at his video. He’s earned everything he’s got.
A core member of the UK’s 3Run Parkour team, Chase Armitage has been one of the sport’s loyal devotees since he was just 17-years-old. Armitage credits his love of Parkour to watching Jackie Chan action flicks as a young boy. “After training for a few years and hitting the age of college, I found myself interested in filming and editing my action material,” Armitage writes on ChaseArmitage.com. “I got deeper into learning and the development of filming and editing.” That’s right, Armitage not only performs soul-crushingly difficult stunts, but he also films and edits them. Not adequately blown away? He’s a weapons and choreography expert too.
Francois “Forest” Mahop
Director and founding member of the UK team, Parkour Generations, Mahop has lived, breathed and studied the sport for many years. Renowned for boundless strength, endurance and equipped with a degree in Sports Physiology, he’s as much a student of Parkour as a mystifyingly skilled expert. Mahop’s been instrumental in bridging the gap between the original French traceurs and their burgeoning, and ever-multiplying, British cohorts. He’s made it his life’s mission to espouse the benefits of Parkour to as many communities as will listen, and travels extensively to instruct at schools, town councils and sports centers. He’s also a media mainstay, gracing TV screens, billboards and magazine covers regularly. Watch him for a minute and you’ll see why.
It’s not all about what’s going on in France and the UK. We’ve got some serious Parkour skill right here in America. In fact, American Parkour (APK) reports itself to be the leading Parkour and Freerunning community in the world. A curator of print and video content, a meeting ground for traceurs and aspiring traceurs, and a sponsor to some of the nation’s top talent, APK is serious about making sure Parkour makes its way across the Atlantic. New to APK’s slate of young gun talent is Washington, DC- born Tony Cephas. A poster boy for the merits of following a dream, Cephas threw himself into Parkour training after he caught fellow APK athlete, Natalie Strasser working out at an area school. At that moment, he became hooked. Now, his days are spent in a gym, trying to do this list’s more seasoned members proud and hoping to join their ranks someday soon. It seems like he’s well on his way.