Thanks goes to TK17 on the 3Run Forum for these terms and definitions. They are still discussed with great passion and cause much debate! However, these are fast becomming the agreed terms...
Parkour: the art of forward movement. In parkour, every motion must be as close to 100% efficient as possible in taking you from point A to point B. Therefore vaults, drops, jumps, rolls, wall climbing, and catgrabs are part of parkour, but spins, flips, and direction reversals are usually not. "Traceurs" utilize obstacles and the spaces between them to create a forward flow, taking physical objects meant to restrict motion and using them to enhance it instead. A parkour video usually follows one or more traceurs in constant motion throughout an environment, as they overcome a variety of different challenges such as fences, walls, and gaps. Most parkour videos will include very few shots of "safe locations" such as a gym, because the key to parkour is interaction with the real, outside world, as in a chase, rescue, or emergency situation.
Street stunts: urban gymnastics. In street stunts, most techniques will be individual and not part of a "run," i.e. you will climb up a telephone booth and backflip off, end of trick. Street stunts can include anything in the range from climbing to handstands to large drops to flips and spins, and it CAN utilize parkour techniques and have moves that flow into one another, but it usually does not. "Stuntmen" utilize large, stationary obstacles such as balconies, rails, walls, and other urban architecture. A street stunts video usually follows one or more stuntmen in NON-constant motion throughout an environment, as they take each location and perform some stunt involving the obstacles nearby. Most street stunts videos do not include any clips from a gym or other safe environment because the appeal of the video is the stuntman's ability to control his own body in dangerous environments without protection.
Tricking: a subset of martial arts kicking techniques and freestyle gymnastics. Tricking involves tight spins and flips usually done on level ground with plenty of space. Although tricking can be done in single techniques, there is usually an emphasis on a continuous flow from move to move to move, with momentum remaining high throughout. Because of this, tricking requires the ability to generate explosive power with single-leg takeoffs and a great deal of coordination and body control. "Tricksters" usually do not utilize any obstacles, but sometimes a small obstacle might be flipped over or used to boost height. A tricking video usually shows just one trickster in a variety of different environments, often including a gym or a grassy area, because the emphasis is on the trickster's motions themselves, on his flow and his ability to flip and spin, rather than on the dangerous nature of his environment. Indeed, it is in a trickster's best interests to seek out the ideal soft, flat terrain so that he can push his limits without unnecessary risk.
Free-running: the art of expression through motion. Free-running takes the basic skill sets of each of the other three disciplines and combines them into a single activity. "Free-runners" often take part in parkour-like runs, but are freed from the efficiency restriction, and so include spins, flips, and direction reverses to increase the overall aesthetic appeal of the run. They also utilize single obstacles after the manner of stuntmen, and sometimes perform tricking combos off of those obstacles. There are no rules at all in free-running; the goal is to achieve a sense of personal freedom and satisfaction with your technique. However, a typical free-runner will be proficient at a wide range of vaults, able to take medium to large-sized drops with a roll, and good at several different kinds of flips, especially the front flip and the basic wallflip. A free-running video usually follows one or more free-runners in fairly constant motion throughout an environment, with occasional pauses for techniques like handstands, flag holds, and flips from stationary positions on obstacles. Free-running videos will include absolutely any kind of location, from safe environments like a gym or a pool or a sandpit to urban environments like an escalator or a rooftop to natural environments like a forest or a cliff.
It's important to remember that these definitions are not meant to limit your own personal activity. Feel completely free to mix and match your skills, doing whatever interests you most. You may find yourself more attracted to tricking, but still enjoy one or two parkour techniques, or you may be a genuine traceur who nevertheless loves to do backflips off of high objects. The definitions are there to provide a framework for communicating with other people, and to maintain respect for the boundaries of the original disciplines. As long as you understand where the lines are and you acknowledge when you have crossed them, you are totally free to play to your own strengths and preferences.
So, where do I go from here?
Wherever you like. Hopefully, this article has given you the tools you need to get started, whatever your current skill level. Now, all you have to do is get outside and get cracking. My final piece of advice is to truly stick to it. There are many sports and disciplines out there in the world, of which most are easier than the ones I've described here. Yet out of all of them, there are none that bring a person closer to his environment, none that give him a better understanding of himself, none that give as much confidence and control in any situation that might arise. Each of the arts above can be done merely as a hobby, but the things you learn within them can also be applied to your entire life. If you have the courage, the determination, and the discipline to become a true member of 3Run, then you will eventually learn that your greatest assets are your own mind and body, and that as long as you have those things, nothing can stop you!
Where do I start?
Have a search around in your local area for people already jamming; some forums list local crews. Most of them are open to beginners, but some are particular about the discipline you choose, so if you can find out what they do first! A good place to practice the more extreme moves, before taking them outside, is in a gym with qualified coaches. Please note that there is currently no separate qualification for teaching freerunning, parkour, tricking etc. However, most gym coaches are well-equipped to teach it, if they are in support of it. Ie, they are easily qualified to support landings, take-offs, shape and form, twisting, flipping, strengthening, safety etc. Where there are several gymnastics clubs across Sussex (for example), very few have 'Open' or 'Freestyle' sessions. Those that do are happy to support you in whatever your chosen discipline is - and knowledge of freestyle work is growing rapidly.
Sébastien Foucan's Freerunning Philosophy
"Freerunning is an evolution. Move like an animal, be fluid like water or find your own balance with a certain philosophy. This is the path of the Freerunner. Be focused within yourself more than the outside world.
The most important Freerunning advice is to follow your own path, your intuition - Make progress step by step. Don’t forget to find the path towards your own balance - Your own rhythm is essential to enjoyment and understanding Freerunning."
Sébastien believes in the concepts of:
No violence, no destruction! Be focused on Passion and Creativity
Do not seek a prize, don’t compete against others! Competition is an illusion, where only the winners are remembered and losers forgotten - you can learn from it, but it’s not 'The Way'. In the Freerunning philosophy there is no Loser. The journey is more important than the goal.
Just be one community, we can share with others - some people have more experience but we are all different and you need to find your own path.
No Leader, follow your way!
People can inspire you and you should respect them, but you have to follow your way!