Parkour Philosophy: A Call to Arms

Blane Norfolk Coast Rock

Parkour Philosophy: A Call to Arms

When did a 30 metre traverse with a kid hanging off your back become less important than some 18ft jump between two sheds with a ‘sandpit landing’? I don’t give a damn about your long and loud strides, that 43 year old guy over there is twice your age, twice as strong… and just dropped from 2 metres and didn’t make a sound.

The things that should matter in Parkour, do not – and the things that are widely considered impressive are not, after you scratch the surface. Our value system is being corrupted. 

I try to look at Parkour from a neutral point of view sometimes, as if I had never heard of it before.

What would I think if I found it now as a 17 year old, in late 2012? I imagine I’d think it looked like fun and I’d probably find myself being drawn to a part of it but I’d see something very different from what I saw nine years ago and I know it wouldn’t appeal to me as much as it did then.

If you finish this article and believe in the values I believe are to be found in Parkour then you will hopefully agree that if we don’t make more effort to share them, then they will be lost. Newcomers will just see big jumps and not an accessible and extremely versatile practice for anyone with a desire to challenge, test and better themselves.

What I saw in Parkour in 2003, at 17:

  • An elite few with a quality of movement and attention to detail in every action that is only achievable through thousands of hours of deliberate practice and training.
  • An unyielding warrior-like spirit in training and in approach to any challenge faced, whether physical, technical or mental.
  • A flourishing, positive community inspired by those who went before them.
  • A system of training and a community that valued all aspects of Parkour equally, and a collective consciousness interested in the practice of Parkour for a lifetime, not just a few months.

What I see in 2012, at 26:

  • A massive increase in the amount of people training around the world.
  • Big jumps.
  • Bad landings.
  • Competitions.
  • A precious few holding on to the old ways and doubting their reasons for doing so…
  • and, ultimately, a shift in what is valued in Parkour.

It is those precious few and the shift in what is valued that I care about most.

I’m responsible for letting this shift happen unchallenged, as much as everyone else is from ‘my generation’. We all stood by and let Parkour evolve and change and grow on the Internet without standing up and saying, “Wait a minute, that’s nice… but what about all of the other parts of Parkour I fell in love with? Where are they?”

I’d like to think that the majority of people reading this will agree that Parkour is just not Parkour without some of these values. Values like courage, resolve, endurance, strength, discipline, dedication and longevity. Values like humility, and altruism. Integrity.

I try to coach with these values I’m talking about in mind when I work with others and I know a lot of experienced men and women do the same, but it’s not really enough to keep these values that some of us hold so dear contained to some Parkour classes in a few cities around the world. There is a need to show this on a bigger scale if we are to keep them alive, and more importantly we need to make a big enough statement that we can be found by those coming to Parkour for the first time looking for more than big jumps.

In the past few years, instead of holding on tight and believing in what we valued and appreciated in Parkour when we first found it, day-by-day, video-by-video our value system is being corrupted and even those few people who still believe Parkour is for everyone can end up feeling like they’re falling behind in their training, not as good as this new guy, or that new guy because they can make that jump and you don’t think you can, or maybe you don’t even want to.

But if you remembered what it is you valued in the first place then you wouldn’t care about not being able to jump as far as ‘that new guy’. Remember what you once thought? What is any jump, great or small… without a good landing? When did improving your climb up, your handstand push-up, your max squat, your quadrupedie and your dead-hang record become less satisfying than improving your running jump..?

I try to coach with these values I’m talking about in mind when I work with others and I know a lot of experienced men and women do the same, but it’s not really enough to keep these values that some of us hold so dear contained to some Parkour classes in a few cities around the world. There is a need to show this on a bigger scale if we are to keep them alive, and more importantly we need to make a big enough statement that we can be found by those coming to Parkour for the first time looking for more than big jumps.

I’ve seen groups of people training together and giving funny looks to the one dude in the background busting his ass with a weighted jacket trying to make his pull-up stronger. When did what he’s doing become an inferior part of Parkour?

Physical challenges are nothing new in the Parkour world. For as long as there has been Parkour, physical challenges have been a part of it. In fact, as some of you will be well aware, long before the jumps took the spotlight, physical challenges were Parkour.

Not so much anymore. Physical challenges (and hell, even physical training) are the endangered species of Parkour.

With a shift in emphasis over the past few years Parkour is no longer the perfect testing ground for finding out what a person is made of physically, technically, mentally… and emotionally.

It is no longer about seeing if you can run to another town and back on an adventure before sunset, no longer about whether you can push that old car up the hill with the friends you have laughed and cried with all day… and no longer about seeing value in being able to jump in to a wet tree in case you ever had to rescue one of those friends who was stuck in one. It is now largely seen as a stage for the talented, an opportunity for people to show the world how they can jump further than everyone else, and how they flew half way across the world to do the same jump that some other guy did in that video he made last year, but wait, you can side-flip out of it.

I see competitions where the world’s ‘best Parkour athletes’ and ‘world champions’ manage 37 seconds of running around trying to do something more impressive than the guy before him before the time runs out, or before they run out of stamina. 37 seconds of mediocre performance? I’ve known and trained with men and women who could last 37 minutes at that level of intensity.

Who let this bullshit creep in uncontested? When did this become such a focus? When did jumping further than someone else hold such value in Parkour? When did going to a spot and trying to replicate a movement someone else did become the goal? I hate to say it but we let this bullshit creep in. The day we began to doubt ourselves and wonder whether having a big jump might be important.

Here is Jesse Owens jumping 26ft (and 5/8ths of an inch) in 1936, Berlin, Germany…

That is a huge jump even by today’s standards and advanced training methodologies.. and that jump is far, far further than any Parkour practitioner has ever jumped between two walls. So why is the Parkour community (and indeed the world) so impressed when someone jumps 18ft between two sheds and crumples as if there was a sandpit like the one Jesse landed in on the far side? Is it because they were brave enough to do it over a gap? In too many cases their fear of falling is only defeated by the thought of being immortalised on YouTube in front of thousands of people in their pyjamas. Is that your idea of bravery? If it is, please close this page now for there is nothing here for you.

But having a personal and worthwhile reason to do a jump with inherent risks to prove something to yourself and to overcome your own apprehension and doubts, to act when everything inside you wants to shut down and go home JUST to improve yourself shows courage and resolve… and these are some of the very values Parkour was built on. The very same values disappearing before our eyes. Running and pushing as hard as you can hoping to make the other side for the Internet or because your friend did it only shows recklessness and promises a short lifespan in Parkour.

I’d like to think that the majority of people reading this will agree that Parkour is just not Parkour without some of these values. Values like courage, resolve, endurance, strength, discipline, dedication and longevity. Values like humility, and altruism. Integrity.

There are many ways that we can help to positively channel the future of the discipline but refusing to allow values like these to be lost to the practice is a good start, and an easy place to start.

We can inspire the next generation of practitioners and allow them to see that Parkour is more than big jumps by not letting our opinions lie dormant.

Comment on videos, upload your own, write articles, coach, talk, travel and train the way you believe Parkour should be trained and let people see that side of it wherever you go. Represent it. Be it.

I see competitions where the world’s ‘best Parkour athletes’ and ‘world champions’ manage 37 seconds of running around trying to do something more impressive than the guy before him before the time runs out, or before they run out of stamina. 37 seconds of mediocre performance? I’ve known and trained with men and women who could last 37 minutes at that level of intensity.

These values don’t have to manifest themselves as challenges like those I mentioned earlier, but ultimately the only way we can significantly grow is to face hardship and adapt to overcome it. This might be in the form of ‘breaking’ a jump, in doing something that scares you because you believe it is worth the risk to overcome your fear and test your ability.

Maybe it will be technical. Maybe it’ll be repeating a running jump to a thin railing and trying to land it perfectly 3 times in a row. 10 times in a row. 50.

Or perhaps it will be a physical challenge after all. Perhaps you will take one of your favourite exercises and test yourself and see how far you can take it. See how many repetitions you can do in 10 minutes or how much more weight you can lift after 6 months of dedicated training in it.

It doesn’t really matter what the challenge is, what matters is that you face challenges regularly if you really want to test yourself and see what you are made of. This confrontation and will to overcome challenge is the heart of the beast that is Parkour and it is beating more slowly with each passing year in the community. But it is this regular exposure to challenges such as these that builds and instils these values in people.

What people don’t seem to realise is that the 19 year old kid who can jump 18ft between those two walls after one year of training will more than likely not be here in a few years. Very few people last more than a handful of years in this game, either due to injury, fading interest or countless other obstacles. So whilst what he’s doing is impressive, yes.. what you are training to do, ‘to be and to last’, for the next 10 years, 20 years… and more, still strong, still progressing, still training and enjoying Parkour.. is much more impressive to me. These are the values and the goals that impressed me about those elite few I mentioned before and these are the things I will not see lost as the years pass.

Don’t apologise for the values you believe in and most importantly don’t allow Parkour to lose them if you do believe in them. Parkour will evolve and become what it will in the public eye, but hold on tight to that which you consider important because you are not alone.

Don’t let it die or the next generation might never see or experience what you saw and did when you found Parkour. Let challenge and longevity shape your training, your goals and your motivations. Set your own personal challenges, even some that might be impossible, for even in those you will learn a lot. Remember a challenge is not a challenge if you know you can make it. Push the envelope, invite doubt and disbelief in like old enemies and make them your friends. Face seemingly insurmountable odds, often.. and you will grow to be a stronger person.

If you want to repeat that little jump at an angle to a moss covered wall all day until you can do it with your eyes closed.. well my friend, you are not alone. I want to repeat that jump with you. But let’s do 50, just to be sure. And one more for the others who can’t join us. That’ll do us both more good than that big roof gap whilst you hold the camera.

We are the minority now, but together we are still an influential percentage of those who say they practice Parkour. We can still let our message be heard for all of those coming to Parkour now, and in the next few years.

This is a call to arms for those I still consider to be the vanguard of Parkour. The time is now. Make a difference by showing and sharing and being the other sides of Parkour that you know and love. The sides that some would see forgotten as the discipline grows.

by Chris ‘Blane’ Rowat