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Parkour, variously considered a sport, a form of physical conditioning, or a way of improving both body of mind, developed from the ""Natural Method" developed in Switzerland by Georges Hebert. The modern form, associated with David Belle, appeared in the 1980s, and emphasized urban environments rather than preformed obstacle courses. Hebert emphasized obstacle courses that required a wide range of physical movements. Belle "was introduced to the Natural Method by his grandfather who had seen the method practiced by French soldiers. Belle, along with friends Sebastein Foucan, Yann Hnautra and Laurent Piemontesi first practiced what is now known as parkour in the late nineteen-eighties. Belle introduced the practicing of the natural method in urban environments to a small community of practitioners who called themselves Yamakasi. This comes from the language of Congo, meaning strong spirit, strong body, and endurance."[1]

Modern practitioners call it the physical discipline of training to overcome any obstacle within one's path by adapting one's movements to the environment. It requires consistent, disciplined training with an emphasis on functional strength, physical conditioning, balance, creativity, fluidity, control, precision, spatial awareness, and looking beyond the traditional use of objects. Typically, parkour movements include running, jumping, vaulting, climbing, balancing, and quadrupedal movement. Acrobatics or tricking do not constitute as parkour, but as free-running. Parkour training focuses on safety, longevity, personal responsibility and self improvement, and highly discourages: reckless behavior, showing off, and dangerous stunts.

Practitioners of parkour, known as a traceur or a traceuse, often value community, humility, positive collaboration, sharing of knowledge, and the importance of play in human life, while demonstrating respect for all people, places, and spaces.

Many urban exercise trails have parcourse obstacle and exercise routes, which are based more on the "Natural Method" since they are on a fixed course.