In the early 1900’s, Georges Hébert was an officer in the French Navy prior to the First World War, and was stationed in the town of St. Pierre, on the island of Martinique in the Caribbean Sea. In 1902 the town fell victim to a catastrophic volcanic eruption.

Hébert coordinated the escape and rescue of some 700 people from this disaster. This experience had a profound effect on him, and reinforced his belief that athletic skill must be combined with courage and altruism. He eventually developed this ethos into his personal motto, "Être fort pour être utile" ("Being strong to be useful").

Upon his return to France, Hébert became a physical instructor for the French marines, where he began to define the principles of his own system of physical education and to create apparatus and exercises to teach his "Natural Method".

Hébert's method is a synthesis of various influences, that of his predecessors and colleges, and various ideals from ancient Greek gymnasia.

Hebert's system rejected remedial gymnastics and believed by concentrating on competition and performance, competitive sport diverted physical education both from its physiological ends and its ability to foster sound moral values.

He wrote: “The final goal of physical education is to make strong beings. In the purely physical sense, the Natural Method promotes the qualities of organic resistance, muscularity and speed, towards being able to walk, run, jump, move on all fours, to climb, to keep balance, to throw, lift, defend yourself and to swim”.

The true Natural Method, in its broadest sense, must be considered as the result of these three particular forces; it is a physical, virile and moral synthesis. It resides not only in the muscles and the breath, but above all in the "energy" which is used.

Georges Hébert's teaching continued to expand between and during the two wars, becoming the standard system of French military physical education.

He was also an early advocate of the benefits of exercise for women. In his work "Muscle and Plastic Beauty", which appeared in 1921, Hébert criticised not only the fashion of corsetry but also the physical inactivity imposed upon women by contemporary European society. By following the natural method of synthesized physical, energetic and moral development, he wrote, women could develop self-confidence, will-power and athletic ability just as well as their male counterparts

Hébert was also among the earliest proponents of le parcours, or obstacle course, form of physical training, which is now standard in the military and has led to the development of civilian fitness trails and confidence courses. In fact, woodland challenge courses comprising balance beams, ladders, rope swings and so-on are often still described as "Hebertism" or "Hebertisme" courses both in Europe and in North America. It may even be possible to trace modern adventure playground equipment back to Hébert's original designs in the early 1900s.

Born in 1939 in Vietnam, Raymond Belle was the son of a French physician and Vietnamese mother. During the First Indochina War, his father died and he was separated from his mother, after which he was sent to a military orphanage in Da Lat at the age of 7. He took it upon himself to train harder and longer than everyone else in order never to be a victim. At night, when everyone else was asleep, he would be outside running or climbing trees. He would use the military obstacle courses in secret, and also created courses of his own that tested his endurance, strength, and flexibility. Doing this enabled him not only to survive the hardships he experienced during his childhood, but also eventually to thrive. After the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, he returned to France and remained in military education until the age of 19, when he joined the Paris Fire Brigade, a French Army unit.

Raymond's son, David Belle, was born in 1973. He experimented with gymnastics and athletics but became increasingly disaffected with both school and the sports clubs. As he got older, he was increasingly curious about his father's exploits and what had enabled his father to accomplish those feats. Through conversations, he realised that what he really wanted was a means to develop skills that would be useful to him in life, rather than just training to kick a ball or perform moves in a padded, indoor environment.

David ended up teaching his father’s way of training to cousins and friends, creating the first generation of Parkour practitioners called Yamakasi, from the Congolese Lingala ya makási, meaning strong in one's person, or "strong man, strong spirit", and called their discipline "l'art du déplacement" (French for "the art of movement"). Years later derivatives would be surge like “Parkour” and “Freerunning”.

Modern days

These days Parkour can be found anywhere on earth, practiced in any environment and by anyone, young or old, male or female, rich or poor, sick or healthy. Throughout the years parkour has developed into a free for all, it can be practiced by anyone without any equipment (Yes, you do not need shoes or even clothes for that matter!).

With today’s knowledge of fitness and health, Parkour has developed quite interesting applications in various areas. The most widely used application is with under aged individuals through youth programs, mostly working with underprivileged families or children who come from traumatic backgrounds (sex, drugs, abuse, etc.), where they get to build up confidence in themselves and teamwork through groups dynamics. In some countries Parkour is being taught to senior citizens and people with physical disabilities (amputees, cerebral palsy, etc.) and having huge success in rehabilitating bone density, muscle atrophy and coordination with low-impact training. In very few countries Parkour is being taught to first responders and the military, and also used to check for security in prisons and government buildings.

In 2017 however the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) declared Parkour to be one of their disciplines, receiving a lot of opposition from the Parkour communities worldwide. This has to do with Parkour’s core principals and beliefs, quoting Georges Hebert "Être fort pour être utile", “Be Strong” Physically, Mentally and Emotionally “To be Useful” for Ourselves, for our Family and then for the Community. Without this, the movement becomes hollow and without purpose.

In order to promote Parkour's philosophy, Parkour Algarve offers workshops and classes in various spaces. Participation is open to anyone, of any age, who wants to experience seeing the environment around them in a different way and discovering new things about themselves while having fun moving around.

To find out more about Parkour, contact Parkour Algarve for details of training sessions. Call, Patrick Gerken (Portimão, Lagos, Pêra) on 969 585 361 or Tiago Pereira (Faro) on 924 083 362 or alternatively visit the Parkour Algarve Facebook page.