When someone asks me if he or she or if this or that person can do parkour I usually instantly reply “yes” – “of course”. Usually with no further explanation except that it´s all about the way you approach parkour and that you should not compare yourself to others. Stephane Vigroux´s post on Instagram is more on point though.
Anyone can do parkour but parkour is not for everyone
Suppose you hate challenging yourself, you are afraid of even looking out of your very narrow comfort zone. Suppose you really do not like to interact with your environment or face your weaknesses and/or are mainly motivated extrinsically. Well I guess there might be better practices to pick up than parkour. It is still my deepest believe, and of many others, that any person regardless sex, age, gender, heritage, ethnicity, religion or any other social demographic variable, can practice parkour. Practicing parkour and progressing in parkour are not bound by these variables. What the real problem is, is the persons attitude toward him/herself, their expectations on what they have to achieve or deliver and especially their own fear on how they score in relation to what they see on social media and/or from others. For me there is only ONE single constant that I aim on scoring myself on. Do I progress in my training and my parkour practice? Progress can mean physical progress, technical progress or maybe mental progress, maybe even all of the above at once or maybe rehabing out of an injury, slowly and steadily.
So when someone asks me in the future if he/she can do parkour my answer is still “yes” – “of course” but I might think to myself – “do you think you have what it takes?” and I might make them ask themselves what they expect from practicing parkour.
I am well aware though that the realisation that stands behind these thoughts is nothing we can just tell someone or something we can teach solely by talking about it. I guess people have to make their own experiences and somewhere along the way honestly review themselves.
Thanks to Stephane for being so on point.
Find Stephane on [icon icon=icon-instagram size=16px color=#000 ] here: https://www.instagram.com/stephane_vigroux
As you know I am a great fan of interviews and in the past I dedicated a lot of resources towards conducting a variety of interviews with parkour-related people. Recently Skochymag lead by the awesome Andy Day has released interviews with Blane, Boki and Thomas Couetic.
Andy got a great sense for relevant and sharp questions and the three interviews you can find below are a great read. My last interview with Blane dates back to 200x, in the time between then and now Blane has totally changed his life to being a fulltime firefighter in London, leaving most of his coaching duties behind and living our well known motto “being strong to be usefull” to its fullest.
If you happen to don´t know Boki already, he is a Serbian traceur, Etre Fort sponsored athlete and one of the main influences of parkour in Eastern Europe.
Thomas is the second generation of traceurs originating from France and currently living in Fontainbleau. Along with others from his generation (Stephane Vigrourx, Kazuma, the Shintais and many more) he is a direkt link to the early phase of parkour, a still active practicioner and a soruce of parkour wisdom and philosophy, although he mostly keeps to staying in the background. Enjoy the interview.
The only thing I regret when reading the interviews is not having done them myself 🙂
In zu vielen Breitensportarten zählt man mit (spätestens) Mitte 30 in den Profiligen / Leistungsligen bereits zum alten Eisen. Es scheint Allgemeinwissen zu sein, dass ein gewisses Leistungsniveau nur bis zu einem gewissen Alter aufgebaut und gehalten werden kann bevor es wieder bergab geht. Oft scheint es enden Profikarrieren mit einer Verletzung aus der die Betroffenen nicht mehr zurückkehren. In Parkour schließen sich Höchstleistung und Nachhaltigkeit nicht aus, eigentlich ist das Gegenteil der Fall.
Ein gewisses Leistungsniveau kann nur durch nachhaltiges Training erreicht und aufrecht erhalten werden. Was verstehen wir unter Leistungsniveau? Der Leistungsbegriff muss (neu) definiert werden. Leistung im Parkourkontext wird oft mit der Weite eines Sprunges bemessen. Ein Gedanke aus dem wir ausbrechen müssen. Die “Leistung” ist etwas Komplexes, etwas nahezu Unvergleichbares. Jeder Parkourausübende bringt individuelle Voraussetzungen mit sich an derer sich seine Leistung misst.
Jeder hat ein anderes Ausgangsniveau, andere Talente und vielleicht eine ganz andere Motivation. Außerdem spielen die Trainingsphilosophie und der Trainingsstil eine Rolle. Möglicherweise hat sich jemand auf fließende Low-Impact Bewegungen spezialisiert die einen sehr hohen technischen Grad erfordern, ein anderer trainiert gerne den Ausdauer Aspekt und findet seine Bevorzugung in der stetigen Bewältigung von körperlich fordernden Kraft Ausdauerchallenges. Der Punkt ist man kann Parkour so vielfältig trainieren wie es Menschen und Charaktere gibt.
Ein vorgegebenes Leistungsbild kann gar nicht so umfassend sein, dass es nicht gleichzeitig auch einschränkt. Am ehesten kommt dem Leistungsbegriff noch eine Definition nahe die versucht ein ganzheitliches Bild eines Parkour Ausübenden zu zeichnen. Ein Athlet der sich in möglichst vielen Bereichen Bereichen der Bewegung engagiert, vielseitig ist und sich auf möglichst viele verschiedene Ausgangssituationen mühelos einstellen kann. Ein Athlet der in einem langen und fordernden Prozesses mit Hilfe von stetiger Selbstreflexion sowohl an seinen Stärken und an seinen Schwächen gearbeitet hat. Und das kann nur erreicht werden wenn man über einen langen Zeitraum stetig trainiert, sich stetig steigert und konstant versucht über die eigenen Grenzen hinaus zu wachsen und nicht die Grenzen anderer.
Wenn ich demnach an Leistung denke versuche ich weder an die größten Sprünge gängiger Instagramvideos zu denken (auch wenn es schwer ist), noch an die Errungenschaften meiner besten Freunde in der letzten Trainingssession, sondern ob ich mich konstant weiter entwickle. Bezogen auf andere bedeutet Leistung für mich einen ausgeglichenen bewegungsfreudigen vielseitigen und gesunden Traceur zu sehen der für kurzlebige Errungenschaften nicht seine eigene Gesundheit aufs Spiel setzt sondern im stetigen Prozess stärker wird.
Parkour still becomes more popular day by day, the image has changed from being just a trend to being a serious practice with a structured methodology. The fitness industry has taken up on the idea of parkour and slowly a broader academic interest in the practice is evolving.
Whenever academics is trying to understand and analyse new and fairly unknown fields, survey methods provide a great tool for getting the knowledge and generating new and valid information for academic analysis.
I am writing this short article because I am seeing so many qualitative bad surveys on parkour (and in general). Basically here are some of the most common mistakes you can make in a parkour related survey and in surveys in general
a) don´t lie about the survey length in your opening statement – while people are more willing to start your survey when the announced length is shorter they are more likely to drop out if the length is longer than announced. Also: respondents who took the survey and were informed correctly on the length are very much more likely to finish the survey but less likely to start it. But that´s what you want, you want data quality, so be honest and let them choose!
b) don´t reproduce data – it sounds stupid, but don´t just go out there and throw your survey in everyone’s face. First you should thoroughly check if your data is out there already. Unfortunately every bachelor project nowadays is trying to get people to finish their survey. In the time I wrote this I saw 2 surveys on injury types and frequencies being posted in the pk research facebook group and the quality was horrible. Instead of reproducing already existent data try to do either get hold of already produced data or try to check other sources. For injury related data I found an interesting data set for the US region that might provide similar insights as some of the surveys being posted out there right now. If that does not cover it, the data might help making your questionnaire shorter at least.
c) now comes the tricky part. Question quality and questionnaire quality… While many surveys are made by people from a broad variety of fields and backgrounds it is disturbing how little it seems survey methodology is something to care about. It starts with the usage of unclear terms and definitions, for example: How many hours do you spend on training a week? – Sounds clear and simple? Well what if I told you the concept of training depends on who you ask. What if I told you that if you asked me the same question 5 years ago I would have answered 4-6 hours (2hrs per outdoor training session) but now I would answer 10 hours, because the term of training has changed for me. Training might also refer to a mental side where I for myself define walking to work instead of taking the bus as training. Not that I do, but I hope you get it. So what to do in that case? Make sure to clearly define your terms and concepts, make sure every respondent understands the same. Otherwise your data quality will severely suffer, up to the point where your results will be useless. That´s quite a common mistake and you can avoid it by pretesting or peer reviews before that.
Another common mistake comes from answer categories that do not cover all the options or that overlapp. Ever saw something like this: How many hours a week do you train: i) 0 – 4, ii)4 – 8, iii) 8-12. Yeah….well…I train 4 hours a week. What do I choose? There is a ton more of these errors that can easily be avoided by the help of your fellow sociologist / survey methodologist. And these errors are really simple ones. Not mentioning question order biases or sampling errors. Just please do your research…In the worst case you draw (wrong) conclusions that get spread that are the product of a poor survey design.
If you want to know more go and get – “Dillman 2000 – The tailored design method”.
If you need help from a trained survey designer / sociologist please contact me at email@example.com
For an example dataset regarding Injury rates in the US see: https://www.cpsc.gov/vi-VN/Research–Statistics/NEISS-Injury-Data
(look out for Parkour, Freerunning or other keywords in the datasets)
The first Parkour Research and Development Forum was organised by Parkour One and hosted by Streetmovement at the Campus of the Gerlev Idrætshøjskole in Denmark. The event took place from July 13th to July 15th 2017.
I was not too sure what to expect but I am someone who is interested in parkour on a wider scale than just the movement itself. A chance to get together with likeminded people who bring the knowledge of their field into the realm of parkour, maybe even on an academic level, motivated me to go. It also seemed like a good format to present our recent work we did in Vienna, but more on that later.
After spending the 12th in Copenhagen together with Blake from PKGen Americas and Phil from PKOne we headed to Gerlev and were welcomed warmly. The campus and it´s spirit are amazing.
Initially at this point I wanted to release the participants list and the speakers list together with a brief overview of what each presentation was about. I will leave this to PKOne who I am sure will release some material on this in the near future. But below you will find the list of speakers together with the tiltle OR a short description of their presentation.
|Andy Day||Radical Inclusivity|
|Mikkel Rugaard||European Equipment Standards in Parkour|
|Marcello Palozzo||Parkour and Sports Science|
|Roger Widmer||PKOne TRUST and the PKOne Academy|
|Martin Gessinger||PKOne TRUST and the PKOne Academy|
|Alexandros Charos||Parkour in Vienna – a data related project|
|Jesse Danger||Parkour Game Programe Design|
|William ‚Bill’ Marshall||Parkour and the visual arts|
|Ville Leppänen||Oxygen consumption in Parkour Athletes|
|Henri Hänninen||Oxygen consumption in Parkour Athletes|
|Mika Vuoriainen||Oxygen consumption in Parkour Athletes|
|Paul van Kaldenkerken||Political Strategies and Goal Reaching|
Parkour in Vienna – a small data related project
I presented a project we did in Vienna. For the past ~12 years the so called Vienna Forum Meeting, a public and free parkour meeting is taking place every Sunday 13:00 – no exceptions made. At some point over the years it became a sort of ritual to shoot a group picture before the actual warmup starts. We identified this picture as a valuable source of quantitative data and took the effort of digitalizing the following information.
- Overall people attending
- Number of males attending
- Number of females attending
Observed over time and in comparison with open source weather data we figured we could get more info on our population of PKV FM – attendants. Some of the results can be seen in the enclosed presentation.
The dataset can be downloaded HERE:https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1kf_2ohfZmvyAekHX0zR-r7Je6R-FRdpzJraUFSnpbUw/edit#gid=1638984993
The full article in German + a PDF for Download can be found HERE: https://www.parkour-vienna.at/community/topic/22313-parkour-in-wien-%E2%80%93-ein-datenprojekt-zum-communityverhalten-von-parkour-vienna/
As an experience the forum fulfilled my initial expectations. It was great to get in contact with all these people who share the same passion and bring in knowldge from their respective field. The forum encouraged exchange and was a great networking opportuinity. On an other note it must be said that the event was a pilot and the format might change in the future.
Looking forward to seeing where this will be going.
In the first part of this interview Alex Pavlotski provides some great insight into the Parkour Panels (http://www.parkourpanels.com/) and the research related to them as well as his thoughts and observations on the commercialisation of sports and parkour in particular. Part 1 also revolves around the question if these developments are “good” or “evil” and what we as practicioners can actually do to oppose developments we don´t agree with. The interview continues…
Section C – Language and Sexism
When we think about co-option and the effect on groups or subcultures (like parkour) the whole sexism and language discourse is closely related. The use of language and the actual influence on the subculture might not be very obvious at first sight.
- Terminology plays an important role in parkour. For example there are the french terms like “saut de bras”, then the English translations like “arm jump” and then the English synonyms like “cat leap”. The usage depends where you go in the world, with whom you train or how traditional or progressive a parkour group´s approach to parkour is. What do you think of the different developments of parkour terminology and what cause / effect does this have on our discipline?
Alex:I think to some extent this was the inevitable outcome of parkour’s disorganized origins. So many people at the start had to improvise technique based on a few grainy videos downloaded over 56k Internet and a handful of TV and HVS screen features. Those early practitioners had to figure out movements, and because they were so involved in that process they named them. The sense of invention and ownership that would have been part of that process makes sense to me.
There is however a second category of ‘renamers’ for whom the object of the process of renaming is to distance moves and themselves from the disciplinary history. They want credit as inventors and founders without paying homage to those who came before them. Here I worry a bit because this is the process by which we lose touch with where it all came from. When I look at the history of martial arts and how contested and bitter the fights between many traditions are, I can’t help but think that we could avoid so many of those errors by simply being less egocentric. I think we should know and teach the origins and terminology, but I think, if we do that, we should be free to use localized terms. I don’t think it’s hard to say: “This is a saut de chat, but we call it a catpass or a kong.” You don’t have to agree with the first generation and their ideas, but not acknowledging them is an act of egotism in my book.
I hate to see people use language to isolate, appropriate and control. Sadly, there’s a long history of people doing that.
- What do you think of referring to women as “beasts” or “beastly” when they achieve a certain feat in parkour?
Alex: I do it all the time. I’ve always seen it as a gender-neutral term. Why? Am I missing something?
- “Traceuese” is supposed to be the female form of traceur in french. In English there are no gender related forms of terms to distinguish female / male practicioners as such. What do you think of the term “traceuse” and gender distinction in our terminology?
Alex: . Before I address the question directly, there’s something I need to say. When it comes to women in parkour there’s one big thing any supportive male practitioner can do to help: GET OUT OF THE WAY. This is surprisingly hard to do for many of us men. And it’s a mistake I’ve made myself. There have seen so many conversations among male leaders over the years about how to ‘fix’ gender imbalance. Even today, guys will sit around and discuss and dismiss community initiatives suggested by upcoming women in parkour. It makes us feel like we are helping, but if you take a step back it looks like paternalism: men making decisions for women ‘in their best interest’. Somewhere in there is the assumption that it’s our job to look after them – not very equal. Everyone has different obstacles to overcome before we meet at the pinnacle of skill. We (men) can help when we are asked, but it has to be at their request. Often it isn’t.
Coming from that angle, this is my thoughts on language. This is tough for me to comment on because I don’t have that much direct skin in the game. The rule of thumb is “if it doesn’t hurt anyone and helps others what possible issue can there be?”
Simultaneously, I’m a fan of acknowledging tradition, even in disagreement. I don’t think we will have anything akin to equality if we try to achieve it by choosing to forget the nasty components of our history. There are definitely bits of our sub-culture that are sexist (varies from place to place) and we need to work on that. But words alone are never going to fix that. The Queer community is a good example of this. They turned around decades of hate by taking control of the words that were used to hurt them. Policing language is like policing history; you can’t erase something by not talking about it. We must remember where we came from so we don’t lose track of where we’re going.
- There was a discussion about the similarity of price money for female and male competitors from the APEX competition in 2016. Do you think competition can be used as a means of sparking a positive gender discussion?
Alex: Definitely. The subculture can’t take action without these kinds of conversations. Communities tend to share political outlooks and parkour is a conglomerate of local communities. We learn from each other or live in isolated and territorial bubbles. As a topic of conversation, competition has been key to parkour identity, the progression of the evolution of the practice and the resistance of co-option. I think the APEX discussions were fascinating and important. There’s a tendency to assume that not arguing is somehow good for the international community. Nonsense. We can imagine this as an analogy of a couple having trouble in a relationship. One couple doesn’t talk to each other because they know they will argue. So they talk to others about their problems and live their lives side by side in silence to avoid a fight.Another couple argues all the time but defends each other to others. Which case is healthier?
- Should parkour embrace certain types of competition? (APEX vs. Red Bull – does it make a difference?)
Alex: I think competition is here and it’s here to stay simply because there are enough community members that hold it as a personal cultural value. And I definitely would rather see it come from the community rather than be imposed by some other external party – As I said earlier, The Barclaycard World Freerun Championship is a good example of internal co-option. I’m happy to accept it, but do I think we need to embrace it? No.
My issue with competition is that it is so often such a failure of imagination. We have this new thing that comes out of the French-German anti-competitive tradition. And for many English-speaking people who are acculturated to competition this is mind-blowing idea. I’ve seen many communities, and it’s interesting to see how people deal with something new to them. Some have taken this non-competitive practice as a breath of fresh air – something new and interesting and an opportunity to learn. Then you get the people who just start to think about it on local established terms. To me, that’s just lazy and unimaginative. Like, “I have this new amazing French thing that I love and makes me happy… but I need to fix it so it’s less new and less French.”
I find it hilarious how many people treat their inability to cope with novelty as some kind of awesome and unique rebellion. There’s nothing progressive, edgy or original about adding competition to anything in an Anglo nation. I can’t think of anything more conservative. Cultivating a business, community, practice that is anti-competitive is the radical and edgy move in this context, albeit, significantly more challenging. Obviously, it’s a bit different from place to place.
Competition is dependent on context and the competitors.
- Do you think the parkour vs. freerunning discussion about definitions and such is over or is there still potential for conflict and need for clarification? If you see the need for clarification: Can this issue ever be 100% clarified and be dealt with?
Alex: I think we are getting pretty close to being settled. The debate remains open as long as some people continue to insist that there is no difference. But history generally pushes for diversification and this is where language becomes important. Parkour is a word that defines a specific practice which was defined by a specific guy in a specific place. Freerunning and Art du Deplacement were defined by different people in different places and refer to different practices. Words relate to history. Right now, everyone feels like they are inventing something or redefining something. But I feel like diversification is a matter of time. Parkour and freerunning are close and complimentary disciplines. So close that it can be tempting to blur boundaries in practice. But it’s not all just about practice, origin and history matters. I guess we’ll wait and see how it all plays out.
Section D – Traveling and communities worldwide
Alex – Intro: I moved around a lot, but I got to spend a few months in USA, Canada, Denmark, Russia and Ukraine. Then, shorter periods at each place (two weeks of so) moving around England, France and Japan. Also, I’ve been all over Australia except for Perth (sorry guys!). In some places I moved around a lot looking for regional communities. In other places I spent the time mostly in one place.
- What do you feel makes a strong, inclusive, sustainable local parkour community?
Alex: Leadership. I spent a long time thinking about this and trying to figure out the difference between tight and lose collectives. Leadership was the big factor. Wherever there was a person willing to spend a great deal of time articulating, teaching, defining ideas, there was always a strong community. These communities weren’t always unified – some were quite fragmented – but a strong leader was always important. Some would hate them, some would love them, but everyone needed someone to translate parkour from an abstract idea seen on videos into something that made sense to the people on the ground. Before you have a deeply involved local leader parkour is some cloud-like idea floating around on the Internet. Leaders translate that into real movement, local philosophy and then communicate it back into the international sphere. Without a defined and committed leader you just have small groups moving in a way that doesn’t really feed back to the next level. They may have good movement, but rarely does that become a community.
- Do you have any advice for community leaders to better facilitate people getting involved?
Alex: Think about the way your philosophy impacts people who are coming in. Pay attention to the things that work in other places and don’t let your pride stand in the way of good ideas.
Section E – Closing Questions
- Is your Phd available somewhere or do we have to wait for the book? 🙂
Alex: Sorry to say, the publishers don’t want the thesis out before the book. So, there’s a ‘stay’ on open access. However, I can give people copies with good reason. Just send me an email. But, if you want more comics and more accessible language, wait for the book. 🙂
- Anything else you´d like to say?
Alex: Just one thing: Contact me! Anyone who want to have a conversation, or share their experience. I’d love to hear it. I am still and always learning. Plus, PK Panels ideas are always very welcome.
At this point I want to thank Alex for all the time and effort he took for this interview. I am aware the written format is slow, needs a lot of time and is a pain in the ass, so thanks especially to Alex (and everyone else so far) who took their time to sit down and write all this. – Alex
Alex Pavlotski is the creator of the well known and widely loved Parkour Panels (http://www.parkourpanels.com/), a satirical and critical web-comic series about parkour. On the one hand these webcomics were a quick read and greatly entertaining but a second, closer look at them revealed that the processed topics were meant to inspire and make people reflect on parkour. Not only were the characters exagerated satirical archetypes of current developments in the parkour scene but the comic-series itself always used the most recent developments as inspiration for the current episodes.
Parkour Panels was part of Alex´s PhD thesis soon to be released into a book. He travelled for around 5 years and met various communities in order to properly understand parkour as a whole. You can find Alex through his blog or actively participating in many of the ongoing online debates on current topics of parkour – for example in the parkour research facebook group.
Section A – Parkour Panels
- Each character clearly represents a certain way of thinking, a certain pkmindest or a certain tendency of how to view parkour. At least back when the comics were released. What kind of a new character could you think of bringing to life that envisions some of the developments going on right now?
Alex: This is something that constantly drives me crazy, and a great question. I knew I’d only be able to run PK panels without a break for three years before shifting to writing and drawing more broadly about parkour. But, in truth, the series became a really important outlet for my own feelings and observations (as well as those of the great practitioners I met). So, whenever anything happens in parkour I instantly think about it in PK panels terms, and a lot has happened since I shifted focus to writing.
That means, as you said, new characters are needed to represent new world-views and philosophies. I have a backlog of panels ideas and a few already drawn up, including the debut of one of the new characters. There are three new cast members I have in mind that reflect changes in the international scene.
Gimmick Guru – ‘Master of movement’ keen to market his skills to all who have the cash to pay.
Trainer 2 – A woman community leader who causes Smurfette to realize a few things.
Opinionated n00b – What happens when a fanboy takes the next step…
There was a three panel arc finished with New Kid, but I shelved if after giving it some thought – the character was too concept specific and didn’t have enough range. The three above make good flexible archetypes.
- Parkour Panels originated as part of your PhD thesis ” Visualising Parkour – Visualising Ethnography” which is now being transformed into a book; could you briefly describe some of the main findings of your research?
Alex: I think the big thrust of the book is about how complex human cultural creations and practices, like parkour, really are. The thesis took on a big range of topics. The book is a little more focused.
For the thesis, the thing that made my study unique was its breadth. I spent nearly five years travelling quite widely and training with and talking to people who jump and something became clear really quickly: everyone does it a little differently. Sometimes it’s a matter of technique, sometimes it’s a question of how people understand what parkour is, sometimes it’s in the community dynamics, but there is always a fundamental and distinct character to parkour everywhere. The Russians, for example, have a strong technical basis that comes from political history and a philosophy that combines European and Neoliberal ideals. In French parkour you can see the ideologies of the state influence definitions and understandings. In English-speaking countries parkour can be both conformity to local norms and a form of innovative rebellion. In Scandinavia parkout fits like a glove.
The thing that makes this interesting is how understated these difference are by people who practice world over. Online, people are always talking about a global community and being part of a global practice, but are constantly fighting largely because of misunderstandings that come out of these differences. Most people simply can’t see them. Their local character is a result of long historical and cultural processes that feel so universal and natural that they are taken for granted. This is culture and bias and I loved the process of working out and explaining the cause of these differences. When you look at it that way parkour transforms from a movement practice to a stage where history, culture, language, politics, ideology, and human drama play-out.
From these observations there were two main findings I want to be central to the book.
People all around the world think they’re doing the same thing. They’re not, but the similarities, differences and perceptions tell us a lot about the people, the places and the cultures that take up movement, as well as something about our universal desire to move
Human beings change our habitat in ways that have unforseen consequences for our own happiness and health. Sometimes these changes impact us in negative ways that force us to adapt or suffer, parkour is one such adaptation.
Section B – Commercialisation of parkour / Influence of brands
- Could you quickly explain how commercial Co-option is done (and what it is)?
Alex: Sure. Though it’s important to say that commercial co-option is a creative process. People commercialize things in all kinds of ways, some good and some bad.
There is, however, a standard model described by Robert Reinheart and Naomi Klein separately back in the 1990s. This is the model that worries me most. Fortunately, it’s a little outdated now, though it is still regularly used.
Let’s imagine you want to sell an idea and a product. Big companies have long realized that ideas are where the money is. A bag might be 20 bucks of material and less in labor, but add an idea and you can sell it for thousands of dollars. Water is free throughout much of the industrialized world, add an idea and people will pay more for it than milk. Entire industries are created on ideas that are attached to products. Ideas like prestige, courage, adventure, youth, etc., appeal to everyone and can be used to boost the price of your product way above production value.
The process of capturing and associating ideas to products is the golden grail of commercial product development. Ideas like wealth and prestige are easy to manufacture, they simply relate to exclusivity of price. Some people will pay more because they want to be seen as wealthy. They want to splash their cash in what academics call conspicuous consumption. But not everyone is into that. Coolness, youth, adventure are more universal aspirations but companies can’t MAKE those ideas. They’re fundamentally unrelated to material stuff, these things come out of authentic experience. This authentic experience is the ultimate gold mine for product manufacturers and you still have a product to sell. So, most large companies hire people like me (anthropologists, psychologists, demographers, sociologists) to find that idea for them. These guys are called corporate cool-hunters and their job is pretty self-explanatory.
Where do you get your cool? If youth, adventure and coolness are unrelated to your bank account how can you capture it? The first step was to borrow it. Celebrity advertising and trendsetters like sports stars can be hired to associate with your product to lend it some of their cool for cash. This is regularly done and it works. But, some companies decided that this wasn’t enough. Attaching yourself to a person is good, but risky. What if they turn against you or ruin their reputation? This might damage your product value. Worse yet, no celebrity appeals to everyone, so how do you get a bigger range? Another plan was needed. If the sportsperson is untrustworthy you can go further up the line and simply buy the sport.
This is what major brands started doing in the 1980s and 1990s, as the marketing of ideas became increasingly targeted. The upside was each sport brought in a new demographic. Want to target the wealthy? There’s golf and dressage. The working and middle class? Soccer, football, etc. Working classes? Boxing, MMA, etc. In the 1990s companies decided to aim for the niches. Youth and adventure sports would bring in another audience and associate products with all kinds of cool ideas. When these companies got there they found something they didn’t expect or particularly like – culture. Culture is meaning, politics, expression, community, ideology, resistance, creativity and history. While some of this was good, a lot of it was not what the advertisers are after. Lots of examples of this: surfers were cool, free and young, but they were also aggressively territorial, ideologically anti-consumerist and deeply political. Rock-climbers and kayakers were often militant echo warriors. Skaters were too diverse to and disorganized to work with. The good news for companies was that these sub-cultural groups were small, isolated and largely unknown to the public. They were also not used to large amounts of commercial interest and exposure and were relatively new when compared to the more widely watched traditional sports. This made they vulnerable to a great deal of manipulation.
What companies found was that they had the power to almost completely reinvent subcultural practices in ways that make them more fitting for the harvesting of their cool ideas. The first step is to strip them of any historical politics that don’t work well for a mainstream market – to introduce an inherently conservative and commercial politic to replace whatever was there before. This was easy because they controlled broadcasting, which put them in a position to control the growth of the activity. What these companies did was look for willing ‘stars’. Then they would use their resources to start broadcasting the subcultural activity but in a selected way, redefined with a new commercial politic. This politic was borrowed from sport (yes, sport is inherently political and due to its long interaction with industry and the state, quite conservative). The voices of dissenting practitioners, of which there were many, were easily drowned out before the wide proliferation of the Internet by simply keeping them off the mainstream screen. These people were excluded from TV broadcasts and commercial VHS/DVD rereleases. The voices of the paid stars were amplified. Because these ‘stars’ were often young, poor and keen for attention they would agree to all kinds of contract conditions most mainstream celebrities would reject. Their success in their chosen sport was (and still is) completely reliant on their support of the commercial line and product. The final touch was the effect of this kind of co-option on the next generation of practitioners. Because these companies positioned themselves for maximum exposure, many newcomers to these activities were introduced to the commercial version. Many simply assumed that ‘this’ is just what surfing/rockclimbing/skating/etc. is. By telling a story about a group loud enough companies were able to own and reinvent entire subcultures, with ‘stars’ who did whatever they wanted and total control of branding, broadcast and message.
This is the process of commercial co-option. To some extent, some of this is quite healthy. And in the age of the Internet it’s much harder to silence dissenters, but we’ve seen this same process applied to parkour, fortunately, with only partial success. The cultures of skating, surfing and many other movement cultures have been quite badly affected by this process. Practices stand to lose their politics, their diversity and their history in the face of a demand to conform to market politics.
I’d hate to see that happen to PK. I’m lucky to be practicing and recording these debates so early in the development of this practice. Hopefully we won’t go down the same paths as many of the more co-opted and contested practices and keep our internal richness and diversity.
So much for a ‘brief’ explanation!
- What can we as practitioners who want to oppose this exploitation and transformation, at least to some extent, actually do?
Alex: Keep hold of authenticity! Commercial co-option only works if the narrative and politics imposed by commercial interests are unchallenged. Their cool-hunting is dependent on authenticity. So, if enough internal practitioners stand up and take ownership as authentic members of the culture it kills the associated cool. We’ve seen this already with MTV’s Ultimate PK Challenge, The Barclaycard World Freerun Championship and the original RedBull ‘parkour’ competitions. All of them followed the co-option formula and had similar effects but all of these faced massive resistance inside the community.
The other thing is to keep talking to each other and disagreeing. Lots of people think that online arguments about parkour are a waste of time, but they’re really important. They demonstrate the diversity of practice and create understanding that there is no single monolithic parkour. This may be frustrating and feelings might get hurt, but it keeps us diverse, informed and connected.
- Should we oppose these developments or do you think that on the long run everything will get back to “normal”?
Alex: Culture is a skillset. It is developed through use and we invent it as practitioners. If we don’t guide it, others will. “if you don’t use it, you lose it.”
- What is your opinion on parkour companies that rise from within the community?
Alex: Largely positive. While I don’t like commercial co-option I also know that culture is never separate from economy. People need to make a living and parkour is legitimated and even enriched when it enters the mainstream. The only thing I’d worry about is when one entity tries to swallow up the others. I’d hate to see us get railroaded into a single path. From interviews I’ve read and seen, so did David Belle and a number of other central founders.
Obwohl 2016 aus weltgeschichtlicher Perspektive pre-apokalyptische Szenarien aufgeworfen hat war es aus we-trace Sicht ein ereignisreiches und positives Jahr mit viel Motivation für 2017.
Im April ging es privat nach Bukarest (Rumänien). Wie bei allen Trips nutze ich die Gelegenheit die lokale Szene kennenzulernen, sich auszutauschen und gemeinsam zu trainieren. In Bukarest konnte ich Justin wiedertreffen, den ich zuletzt vor über 10Jahren gesehen hatte, der immernoch aktiv ist und der mittlerweile Bukarest´s 1. Parkour Halle eröffnet hat. Um genau zu sein, sie wurde 1 Woche nach meinem Aufenthalt eöffnet.
Ebenfalls im April fand seit langer Zeit der Springjam wieder außerhalb Wiens statt, nämlich, auf meinen Vorschlag hin, in Linz! Das Gebäudemanagement des neuen Rathauses hat uns eine ausdrückliche Genehmigung ausgesprochen und mit ca. 50-60 TeilnehmerInnen war der Jam bei gutem Wetter ein voller Erfolg. Im Aufwärmen haben wir außerdem QM style die monströsen Ars Electronica Stiegen erklommen, eine Errungenschaft auf die alle stolz sein können (siehe Video). An dieser Stelle großer Dank an CtC-Verein zur Förderung von Bewegungskünsten für die tolle Organisation.
Im Juli fand erneut der sogenannte FMI – Forum Meeting Instruktor statt bei dem ich u.a. mithelfen konnte und meine bisherge Erfahrungen ein wenig teilen durfte. Der FMI ist eine CtC / PKVienna interne Kurzausbildung für alle interessierten Mitglieder, die in der Abhaltung des Forum Meetings unterstützend agieren möchten. Beispielsweise beim Leiten des gemeinsamen Aufwärmens oder bei der Abhaltung von kostenfreien Gratisworkshops für Anfänger. Ínhaltlich orientiert sich der FMI an ADAPT bzw. an den gängigen internationalen Coachingstandards.
Juli war zudem NIGHT MISSION time. Die 3. Night Mission ging nach monatelanger Vorbereitung mit insgesamt 7 TeilnehmerInnen erfolgreich über die Bühne. Es wurde geschwitzt, geblutet, der innere Schweinehund getreten und über ca. 9 Stunden durchgehend trainiert. Die Teilnehmerreviews sagen dabei mehr als ich hier unterbringen könnte. Ihr findet sie hier: http://www.we-trace.at/nightmissionreviews/
Ein weiterer privater Trip führte mich nach Berlin im August, wobei auch hier die Gelegnheit genutzt wurde zu trainieren. Phil ein guter Freund und Trainingskollege verbrachte einige Monate in Berlin und neben dem Worlds best Döner gab es viel Gelegenheit sich zu bewegen.
Da uns die outdoor Class an die verschiedensten Orte in Wien führt wurde Ende Juli / Anfang August am Schwendermarkt ein Team junger KünstlerInnen auf uns aufmerksam, die im Zuge des Grätzlevents “Schwenderkino” ein Kurzfilmprojekt mit uns drehten. Das Video zeigt abseits dem vielfach verbreiteten Bild von Parkour in den Medien ein sehr authentisches Bild eines Parkour Trainings, nicht zuletzt, eines Parkour Trainings mit we trace (Veröffentlichung war im August).
Ende August stieg ich mit Tom von Parkour Vienna in den Flieger nach London für eine Woche Training und Austausch mit Parkour Generations. In dieser einen Woche haben wir viel Schweiß und ein bisschen Blut in London gelassen und veiniges an Eindrücken und guten Gesprächen dafür bekommen. Trainiert wurde “all over London” und im sogenannten Chainstore, der 1. Parkourhalle UK-weit, die 2013 eröffnet hatte, als ich bei PKGen arbeiten durfte. Parkour Generations ist auch weiterhin Vorreiter auf internationaler Ebene und wir freuen uns, dass über die Jahre eine sehr freundschaftliche Beziehung gewachsen ist.
Direkt nach London ging es zur Erholung nach Griechenland, aber wie es mittlerweile offensichtlich sein sollte wurde auch hier trainiert. In Athen konnte ich Panos besuchen, der mit der Athens Parkour Academy Vorreiter in Griechenland ist. Nicht nur hat er mit seinem New World Gym (One Piece Anspielung) Griechenlands erste Parkour Halle eröffnet, er hat sich 2016 zudem vollständig professionalisiert und zeigt dabei eindrucksvoll, dass gerade in einem so ökonmisch krisengebeutelten Land wie Griechenland ein starker Wille etwas zu bewegen und zu verändern kleine Wunder wirken können. Die Trainingssessions mit Panos und Anma waren grandios. Das Zeitrennen gegen sich selbst (siehe Instagram) war genial.
Im Oktober ging es Schlag auf Schlag weiter. Für die Generalversammlung von Parkour One folgte ich einer Einladung nach Basel. Dort durfte ich we trace, aber generell Parkour in Österreich vorstellen, durfte all jene Leute treffen und kennenlernen, die in Deutschland und der Schweiz, aber auch international sehr gute Arbeit leisten. Parkour One wird auch in Zukunft ein starker Partner sein und ich freue mich auf die Involvierung in Projekte wie z.B: der Parkour One Academy, eine Instanz zur Etablierung gemeinsamer Coaching und Wissensstandards, sowie zur Forschung und Entwicklung. Im Zuge der Generalversammlung konnte ich zudem das Interview mit jenen Coaches durchführen die 2016 nach Gaza gereist sind um dort zu unterrichten. (Das 1. Mal im für mich ungewohnten Format Face to Face via Kamera – Veröffentlichung wahrscheinlich Anfang 2017)
Im Oktober startete zudem ein innovatives von der Stadt Linz gefördertes Projekt mit einer neuen Mittelschule in Linz. Im Zuge der bis jetzt eher planlos gestalteten Freizeitstunden der 1. Klassen wurde ich eingeladen über einen Zeitrahmen eines gesamten Schuljahres diese Freizeitsunden mit Parkour zu beleben. Den SchülerInnen soll dabei Spaß an der Bewegung, ein gewisses Körperbewusstsein und vor allem die Förderung von Selbstbewusstsein etc. vermittelt werden, während den beteiligten LehrerInnen jenes Wissen vermittelt werden soll, das dazu notwendig ist Elemente dieser Stunde auch eigenständig mit den SchülerInnen abhalten zu können.
Im November wurde ich vom Alpenverein nach Bruck an der Mur eingeladen, um dort einen Parkourworkshop für die GruppenleiterInnen der einzelnen Alpenvereinsgruppen abzuhalten. Dabei wollte ich neben einem ganzheitlichen Zugang zu Parkour vor allem die Fähigkeit betonen Parkour für jede Alters- und Skillgruppe gleichermaßen zu adaptieren, wobei die Differenzierung von Parkour in der “Realität” vs. Parkour in den Medien ebenso angeboten wurde, wie ein Mix aus den gängigen Unterrichtsformaten (Parkour Teambuilding, Einführung für Anfänger, Parkour als Tool zur Bildung von Selbstbewusstsein,…).
Im laufenden Betrieb fanden 2016 ca. 50 Outdoorclasses statt, bei jedem Wetter. Ausnahmen gab es lediglich aufgrund spontaner Ausfälle und /oder Reisen ohne Möglichkeit von Ersatz, was jedoch selten vorkam.
Auch dieses Jahr gab es wieder Interviews, wobei sich vor allem Samson und Phil von Parkour One angeboten haben bei den Interviews zu unterstützen. Daraus wuchs eine Kooperation mit Parkour One und einem breiteren Kreis der PKOne Mitglieder mit der Hoffnung die Interviews qualitativ besser zu machen und intensiver zu forcieren. Konkret konnte nach dem Erscheinen des neuen Buches Breaking the Jump – Julie Angel für ein Interview gewonnen werden, nachdem sie 2013 ca. aus Zeitgründen bereits einmal absagen musste. Außerdem ließen uns die Betreiber der KRAP Halle, der damals größten Parkour Halle Europas einen Blick hinter ihre Kulissen werfen. Ein weiteres Interview befindet sich zudem gerade in der heißen Phase, denn Alex Pavlotski, australischer Anthropologe und Schöpfer der Parkour Panels Comic Serie beantwortet gerade unsere Fragen.
Ein paar der Eindrücke von 2016.
Julie Angel dived into the world of Parkour around 2003/04. She contributed greatly to a very rooted and real picture of Parkour through her short films, documentaries and portraits. Julie somehow manages to capture the spirit of Parkour on video without solely relying on the spectacle aspect of the discipline. Through her videomaking and her own practice she inspires people of all ages and abilities. In 2011 Julie released Ciné Parkour, the first ever academic work on PhD level on Parkour. At the same time Ciné Parkour, for the first time, provided a written and scientific base for the history and development of PK. 2016 saw the release of Julie´s “Breaking the Jump“, a book filled with incredibly detailed stories of the founders of the discipline along a structured timeline of the events and the history of Parkour. Below you will find the interview. The questions were developed with strong input from the community.
- What does Parkour mean to you personally?
Julie: For me it’s a mixture of things both physically and mentally – a way of facilitating change, a mindset of embracing challenges, and a way of experiencing environments as more than they first appear.
Parkour and science
- What do you think would be interesting Parkour related research topics in the coming years?
Julie: I love the work Charlotte Blake is doing on Parkour and mental health – see this blog for more info on that. I also think longevity is an important issue that I’d like to see more projects focus on. Even though Parkour is still such a young discipline I think this matters. And public space, there’s so much to research! I’m a big fan of public space and there’s not so much left these days but it’s not clearly sign-posted so it’s a sort of stealth issue in that spaces that may appear as ‘public’ (ones where you can sit down and eat a sandwich on your lunch break etc.) but are in fact private and highly regulated. Bradley Garret is doing some great work on this at the moment.
- Do you intend to publish more scientific research related to Parkour?
Julie: Nope. I’m all done for now.
- As you actively work for inclusivity in Parkour and a broader acceptance: do you sometimes feel frustrated by the sheer mass of action orientated Parkour video releases and their influence on the broad public perception of Parkour?
Julie: Not really, I understand and also appreciate the will of people to share their achievements and the role it plays in inspiring others. It’s also easier to film the action than communicate something a bit more ambiguous or meaningful. Society loves a spectacle and Parkour can be a beautiful one so it’s great to celebrate that but yes a bit more balance would help those who are trying to communicate a broader message and especially those who focus on the educational potential for Parkour across a diverse range of ages and abilities. I think more filmmakers could do work on the other aspects of Parkour beyond the action but given the choice, if someone is only going to make 1 project about Parkour then most will go for action, but that’s not to say that more meaning can’t be communicated at the same time, it just depends on your filmmaking craft, experience and motivation.
- What do you think of the current sportification of Parkour?
Julie: It’s a mixed bag, in some locations the sportification and creation of certifications and regulated training has helped break down the barriers to participation for many. I wouldn’t have started training without there being a ‘proper class’ and trusting the coach. There’s also a big difference between someone being good at Parkour themselves and having the progressions and wider knowledge to coach and introduce it to someone of a very different background and level of physical competence than they themselves had when they started. As far as I know, the places where there are larger female participation are ones where there is a solid coaching community. People need to feel that they are welcome and this is communicated in everything a group or community does. It could be the imagery they use in their ads or promos, the style of language they use and how they are perceived locally. It all forms an impression of whether someone thinks ‘oh that’s something that could be for me’. At the other extreme the free exploration has been lost sometimes and replaced with a bootcamp style of training, the ‘no pain no gain’ mentality which I don’t personally enjoy and don’t make any progressions with. Depends on how you see ‘sport’, and what level of standardisation is imposed. I think the word ‘sport’ currently has a very narrow meaning and it would be great if an activity like Parkour could help broaden that.
- What do you think of the interplay between Parkour and business? Do you see any potential issues to the integrity of Parkour?
Julie: There are ethical businesses and there are opportunists and parasites. There are some great Parkour businesses out there that are community run, ethical, sustainable and profitable. These organisations have a high level of reflection on the question of ‘why’ they are doing what they do or offering X.Y,Z. They tend to take their time on projects but the results are ones of quality. For example, in Finland, if you are training to be a teacher for P.E. (physical education) or sports, every candidate will have had some Parkour training. I also think there are Parkour businesses that are being run by people who know a lot about Parkour but not so much about running a business. People need to be open to learning more than just how to coach or perform Parkour. I know quite a few athletes who now have ‘Parkour office jobs’ and they can´t believe how much admin they have to do etc. but admit that they don’t have good efficient systems in place because maybe it’s the first time they’ve ever run a business. It’s like anything, there are always people you can ask for help, learn more about and have a different skillset. Nobody is good at everything. Every business makes choices around the values it wants to maintain and at what cost to their profit and sustainability. It comes down to informed choices basically.
- How do you estimate the ratio of female to male Parkour-practicioners right now? (50% / 50%?) Has this ratio changed over the years? (If yes: What are the main reasons for this change?)
Julie: Depends where but my guess is that on average it’s 10-30%. The places where I have seen growing female communities are ones where there is a solid coaching culture that has made a concerted effort to make women feel welcome. By advertising something as ‘for everyone’ is quite meaningless when you look at the wider culture of who does activities that are perceived as ‘risky’, need acts of courage and are potentially physically demanding. In general people wont think ‘oh well I bet there’s loads of women training of all ages’, they are more likely to think, ‘there are probably a lot of young athletic guys’. It takes a more specific approach to make those outside of the major demographic feel welcome at an event/class/jam. I think there’s more awareness of what needs to be done if people are interested in having more female participation. I think it’s really positive that people are asking the questions now of ‘well if it’s for everyone where is everyone? Where are the women, older participants, less able’ etc.
- Have you ever had the fear of not living up to the expectations of people you dealt with while working on the subject of Parkour?
Julie: Apart from the book no, and that was self-imposed. When doing my PhD Iwas very lucky in that aspect compared to some other Parkour researchers I know. When I started training it was clear that I hadn’t moved for a very long time so there was no expectation for me to perform or be able to do anything. I spent years just doing step vaults and that was fine. I turned up and tried and was humble to the process so there was a mutual respect between those who I filmed and when I was a student at one of their classes. When filming and interviewing I have a very informal way of being and a very typical British self deprecating sense of humor so no big ego which meant that nobody ever knew if I was going to make anything that was any good or not. I quite often get told ‘oh wow, I thought it would be ok but I didn’t think it would be that good’. I take my work seriously but I’m not a very serious person if you know what I mean. However, with the book I felt an incredible sense of responsibility as people were sharing so much of their personal stories for which I am incredibly grateful. I was constantly humbled and amazed at how much people shared. I’m quite a private person and I can’t imagine how weird it is for those individuals to read about their lives. I took that responsibility very seriously.
- Is your work on the history of Parkour finished or will we get more on the subject from you?
Julie: There’s more but not another book. There are some chapters that I decided not to put in the book but I’d still like to share. I’m going to release those soon. If I put everything I wanted in the book I would never have finished it so there’s still more that will come out in the form of blogs etc. I just need to get back into a writing mindset again.
- What are you currently working on? (Current projects?)
Julie: As part of See&Do I’m working with several very inspiring coaches towards developing on a series of online courses: Strong Body Strong Mind, that involves a combination of functional natural movements, neural linguistic programming and self-defence strategies for women. It’s how to be healthy, happy and safe. Train your body, your mind and connect the two. I’m really excited about this and doing a lot of research. If all goes well this should be ready early next year.
- Is there anything left you want to mention?
Julie: Keep moving, stay strong and be brave. And thanks for the questions 🙂
More Ressources and Infos can be found on:
- http://julieangel.com/ to see what Julie is up to at the moment!
- http://www.see-do.com/ for more info on her latest project
- Most of Julie´s documentaries and film projects can be found on her Youtube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/slamcamspam
- The pictures of Julie in motion (Title and before Q8) were taken by Andy Day – visit him @ http://www.kiell.com/