Parkour (sometimes called "free-running," although the latter is actually somewhat different) is a physical discipline, sometimes called a modern-day martial art, originating in France. It can be summed up as "acrobatics meets assault courses" - whereas free-running is a far more demonstrative discipline best described as a form of skateboarding which is practiced without a board. Parkour is based on general principles of survival: Should you ever need to get from Point A to Point B as fast as possible, the shortest distance is always a straight line. The goal, therefore, is to get past, over, under, or through various obstacles without wasting any time.
Parkour practitioners (called by gender-specific pronouns; a male parkour runner is a traceur
, a female is a traceuse
; referring to multiple parkours uses traceurs
) run their environment like an obstacle course: leaping obstructions, vaulting cars, bypassing staircases, and otherwise taking wild shortcuts. Although commonly associated with cities, Parkour can be used to negotiate any type of environment. Traceurs
will tell you their discipline becomes a mindset over time. They learn to unconsciously scan their surroundings for the best paths of escape. Plus, it not only looks damn cool, but just might prove to be Awesome Yet Practical.
Parkour has begun to appear more frequently in TV shows, owing to its growing popularity. Its moves are commonly employed by martial artists, notably Ninja and practitioners of She Fu. With special effects and wirework, it becomes an even more impressive feat than it already is (and is proof positive that movie producers are dedicated to Completely Missing The Point. Parkour is cool because it is real
). If it's done in Slow Motion, it's more than likely a reference to The Matrix.
A realistic version of Roof Hopping - most parkour is done at or near ground level, because that's where one encounters the most obstacles.
The difference between Parkour and "Free Running" is similar to the difference between "combat" and "display" forms of various martial arts - one of the central "rules" of Parkour is that it is not a competitive sport, and emphasizes efficiency, self-discipline, and oneness with the surroundings, whereas "free-running" is based on display stunts and acrobatics that can be done in one location, just for the hell of it. ~ TV Tropes