The following is the translation of an interview of David Belle conducted during February 2009, just after the release of District 13 Ultimatum. Translating this article was not an easy task. For once no media has been rewriting what David has said, so the challenge was to translate from French to English his talk as literally as possible to keep his vibe.
http://www.parkourfrance.com/Forum-topic-1295.html Thanks to Raphael Koster for that interview.
Why have you decided to move from being a fireman to been 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 the cinema. It was not a vocation. Not something I wanted to do since I was little. What I wanted was to make my sport be known: that Parkour become recognised. My brother showed my small videos to the media and they got interested; which brought me to the cinema. But acting wasn’t something I originally wanted to do.
Now that I am into that field; I enjoy it and I am not going to waste that 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 enough with only the first District 13. It was already enough for me to be able to tell that to my kids. When I finished working on D13, 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 hadn’t taken 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 play in movies. I never ask for anything. It all started with the documentary that has been showed 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 D13U. They called me like 4 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 seconds of my life.” Now, I could learn to play music, like the guitar or what ever; what’s important is that I want to learn other things. Parkour is not the only thing in life. When people tell me “Parkour kicks ass, I have to do it!”, me 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 than 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 practising the same punches. It’s even likely that the guy has never fight of 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 do some circus. To me, Parkour is something personal. It just happened to get famous. I’m not the one who put it on the internet.
Is the reason of your disagreement with the Yamakasi who made Parkour move into movies and shows?
No. But when I really think about it, there is no issue with the Yamakasi. Me I only practice what my dad tought 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 Parkour Generation 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 with it 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 business with it. The goal of Parkour is not to make money or 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 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 centre blablabla”. But me, I learnt Parkour outside! The real Parkour training is to be done outside. You can do whatever with your centres, put some mats, but people will always end up going outside.
What necessity made you create Parkour?
It is 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 realised how much training he had done. he trained like I never have done in my life. Compare to 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 make you do the real train, you will 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 those things. When you are swimming you know it is in you. It’s not for nothing.
You are not oblige to specialise yourself in them, like become a climbing expert. You can still experience with 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, painting and as well Parkour. How is not important. What is important is to open your mind because you gain some freedom.
I think that when you train Parkour, you realise a bit more what freedom means and especially concerning society. It really opened my mind. But now 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, a good physical preparation, we know exactly what we are capable of, and that we can evolve without being disturbed by the others. Still respecting others, but not being disturbed by them.
Now I often to have to justify myself; particularly with cops. But on an other hand I understand them, when they see me climbing stuff they can think that I’ve stolen something. So they are many difficult moments like that so I am thinking of moving to an other country like Thailand or even the UK, anywhere where cops are not such a pain.
Even in the UK?
Yes! Even if they are too many cameras over there. Cops know what is Parkour. Whereas in France they are being such a pain even though the sport has been 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 it hasn’t been evolving as fast as Parkour has. 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 since a long time! I wouldn’t be surprise 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.
Me what I would like to achieve is something better; something really close the the street. Maybe just a place where we can gather everyone outside. I 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 with that money we gathered, we 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 wanted to do his own way, arguing over and over where it all started, some who never wanted to admit it came from one place; well we got divided instead of being united. We are now in a “divide and conquer” type of strategy.