The following is one of the most comprehensive and insightful interviews ever conducted with David Belle the founder of Parkour. In the interview David speaks extensively about a wide range of subjects including his transition from being a fireman into being an actor, training and learning Parkour from his father, and his future plans as they pertain to practicing Parkour and pursuing knowledge and activities in other facets of life.
This interview was conducted only a couple months ago after the release of B13 – Ultimatum, and was just recently made known to the public through the Australian Parkour Association. Special thanks to Raphael Koster for conducting the interview and Benjamin Mossé for translating it.
Why have you decided to move from being a fireman to being an actor/stuntman?
Firstly, after being a fireman, I went into the army. I was in the Marine Infantry. It was a coincidence I found myself in movies. It was not a vocation. Not something I wanted to do since I was little. What I wanted was to make my sport known: that Parkour become recognized. My brother showed my small videos to the media and they got interested; which brought me to movies. But acting wasn’t something I originally wanted to do. Now that I am in that field; I enjoy it and I am not going to waste the opportunity. If there are opportunities for me in movies, I will take them. Otherwise I will move on to something else. However, for the moment I am not thinking of making a career in that area. I was more than happy with the first District B13. It was already enough for me to be able to tell that to my kids. When I finished working on B13, I told myself: “Even if there is only that one, I am happy enough that Parkour brought me to do that; to be able to show Parkour to the public and make myself known”. For the rest, let’s not make plans on what is and what is not going to happen.
You’re talking as if you haven’t made any decisions by yourself, as if it just all happened by accident…
But it did all happen just like that! I never had any kind of strategy. I never tried to sell myself to act in movies. I never asked for anything. It all started with the documentary that has been shown on TV. From there I took what people offered. Even the last thing, Prince of Persia, I did not ask for that job, it is them who contacted me while I was filming in B13 Ultimatum. They called me like four times, insisting for me to work with them. I was working on another movie at the time so we agreed that I would work for them on my free days. Parkour is being integrated everywhere in movies now, as soon as there is a little race or a jump they use Parkour. We clearly notice it now, the jumps are different.
What are the differences between preparing yourself for stunts in a movie and your own training?
I do it about the same. Parkour, I am finished with it now. People are starting to get interested in that art, but me I have already explored it a lot. I also have a lot of interests in other things. When someone talks to me about Parkour I am not going to say “It’s too late”; most of the time I answer “You should have come when I was 20 years old. I was really motivated at that time! I was into Parkour every second of my life.” Now I could learn to play music, like the guitar or whatever; what’s important is that I want to learn other things. Parkour is not the only thing in life. People tell me “Parkour kicks ass, I have to do it!” I have interests in other things too. Parkour is a training method men should train because it helps you displace yourself in urban or natural environments and learning to adapt yourself to it. However, for me, learning to do stuff like cooking is as important as doing Parkour. Knowing how to repair a car, how to help someone who’s having a cardiac arrest etc. For me those are the basics of life. I am not like an old martial artist at 80 years old who’s always practicing the same punches. It’s even likely that the guy has never fought for his life and I would like to tell him “Stop punching, relax yourself, live normally; enjoy your life,” because there is too much rigidity when people focus too much on something. And I don’t want to end up like that. When you’re getting your first aid diploma, you are not going to be saving people every day it’s more “if something happens, I will know what to do.” I’ve always trained Parkour with the same mentality. So fuck people who tell me “Hey do a demo! or something…”, I never trained Parkour to perform or show off. To me, Parkour is something personal. It just happened to get popular. I’m not the one who put it on the internet.
Is the reason for your disagreement with the Yamakasi about them moving Parkour into movies and shows?
No. But when I really think about it, there is no issue with the Yamakasi. I only practice what my dad taught me. When you listen to them, they’ll tell you they do something they created themselves. And we all live at the same place. The group Yamakasi does not even exist anymore, everyone went away; now it’s called “Majestic Force thingy”. When it was Yamakasi they were like “We are Yamakasi, it’s the sport”; now they are moving towards PG Tips because this project is working well. And I ask myself, why is that? We had a simple sport, why does everyone want to give it a new name? “It’s like Parkour but it’s called Free Running style thingy…”. But it is Parkour! When you go in any other country around the world you say “I play soccer or volleyball”. The name of the sport does not change. So why change the name of Parkour unless you want to do some kind of business and be able to say “I am the creator of this new sport, exactly like Parkour except that you only jump on one leg”? Change one thing to say that you are the creator of something and be able to make some money from it. The goal of Parkour is not to make money or create a business. There is no financial goal behind it. Parkour should be taught to people who want to learn. If they don’t have money it does not matter because you don’t need any to do it, just a pair of good shoes and that’s all. Now people are like “Beware! The Academy is gonna open!” or “There’s gonna be a Parkour center bla bla bla.” But me, I learned Parkour outside! The real Parkour training is to be done outside. You can do whatever with your centers, put some mats down, but people will always end up going outside.
What necessity made you create Parkour?
It was my dad who taught it to me. I had seen and heard a lot of things he did as a fireman – he was a true legend. And I wanted to know his history. Either my dad was gifted and in that case I would never be able to be like him, or either he had trained to get that good and in that case he probably has something to teach me. I then realized how much training he had done. He trained like I never have done in my life. Compared with him I am a little kid who’s playing. When I think about all the physical training he went through I tell myself “Is that the price to pay to get that good? Fuck it’s really hard!” Many people pay to get trained, but I reckon if any of them would have trained with him only one day, none of them would have ever come back. That’s how hard it is. So many people try to train easy “Come do Parkour! It’s really cool!” But if tomorrow I made you do real training, you would end up crying. That’s what you need to know: you are going to cry, you are going to bleed and you are going to sweat like never before. I can’t lie to you about that. Now if you come telling me “Hey I want to learn Parkour, but go easy on me, I don’t want to push too much,” well go do something else! It is for warriors. A training method for warriors. It is not like “I want to learn how to fight; but please don’t hit me too hard because I don’t like it.” If that’s the case, go do something else! If you want to be a real warrior you have to go through hard times.
What use has Parkour?
Easy, we have two hands: it’s to grab things. We can grab things to displace ourselves. We can lift ourselves up. We can jump and run with our legs. We can swim. Instinctively you know you can do these things. When you are swimming you know it is in you. It’s not for nothing. You are not obliged to specialize in them, like become a climbing expert. You can still experience everything and I think that’s what life is about. Don’t close yourself to anything and think you have found the truth and understood life. Many people open their mind through different things like music and painting, as well as Parkour. How is not important. What is important is to open your mind because you gain some freedom through it. I think that when you train Parkour, you realize a bit more about what freedom means especially concerning society. It really opened my mind. But it does not mean it will have the same effect on someone else. What’s good for one is not necessarily good for someone else.
What is the freedom of Parkour?
After a good training session, and good physical preparation, we know exactly what we are capable of, and that we can evolve without being disturbed by others. Still respecting others, but not being disturbed by them. Now I often have to justify myself; particularly with cops. But on the other hand I understand them, when they see me climbing stuff they can think that I’ve stolen something. There are many difficult moments like that so I am thinking of moving to another country like Thailand or even the UK, anywhere where cops are not such a pain.
Even the UK?
Yes! Even if there are too many cameras over there. Cops know what Parkour is. Whereas in France they are being such a pain even though the sport was developed here. It has been 10 or 15 years since Parkour was first given media coverage in France and no one knows about it. I am always being asked the same questions over and over. When we are in the street, it is exactly like 15 years ago when it all started. This frustrates me because public perception hasn’t been evolving as fast as Parkour itself has been. If only we had the resources to really create something good, but we haven’t. At the moment everyone is trying to make it his own way, we are all going in circles; but it could all have been done a long time ago! I wouldn’t be surprised if the things I would like to do are only going to happen when I am 60 years old and I won’t be able to move like I do today. What I would like to achieve is something better; something really close to the street. Maybe just a place where we can gather everyone outside. I would like to create a foundation and we get 500,000 euros or even 1,000,000; with that I’d say “OK, Let’s invest all that money to make this sort of place for Parkour”. I won’t be like “OK cool, but I’ll take a quarter of it because I am the founder of the discipline”. No! I’m not going to even take a cent. If we get that money it is because people want a place like that. So we use that money to create this place and that’s it. When I think about it, with the money I made from movies and other things, same with the Yamakasi… if we had all gotten together, it would already be done. But instead, everyone did his own way, arguing over and over about where it all started, some who never wanted to admit that it came from one place; well we got divided instead of being united.
We are now in a “divide and conquer” type of strategy.