Parkour Philosophy: The Split
Being French and learning my Parkour in Lisses with David Belle (beginning in 1998) I have been lucky to be part of the early days of Parkour. I had the chance to train and learn at the time when what we were doing was completely unknown to the world: just a few crazy young guys training ”something” in a small town. No TV interest, no newspapers, no cameras, no internet. Just the city, our quest for identity, fears, and a body and mind craving for challenges and self development and growth.
After a while, I naturally went into teaching and sharing some of the knowledge I received from training with David Belle, Sebastien Foucan and Williams Belle, who have all been great inspirations to me.
While passing on this knowledge and meeting the new generation of practitioners I quickly realized something: parkour is evolving, changing, and a part of it is being diluted. It is creating a separate trend and mentality.
Back then I thought it was fine as long as we manage to keep and maintain the spirit and essence of parkour alive, that there is room for everyone and we are free men to think and do things the way we want. I would rather prefer to try and focus on what we share, what are the similarities between our movement and way of training and way of living instead of dividing our community more at such an early stage of development of our “movement”.
So, my approach and message during those past 5-6 years was very much one of federation; seeing the whole thing as ONE united movement we should develop together. That intention was right, I think, at the beginning.
Many years later, I have since worked closely with pretty much every major parkour community around the world. I’ve had a lot of time to observe it growing and evolving, and I came to the conclusion, and I can honestly say today, that the Redbullion crowd (a term coined by Sebastien Foucan to describe the virus that is diluting our movement) and those looking to show off are NOT doing parkour! They are NOT training the same discipline that we created in France all those years ago.
Whilst their jumps look the same on a video, visually appear to be the same, the meaning behind those jumps, the reason and motivation to do them, the state of mind when doing them and the intention, are in essence completely different. Parkour is not, and never has been, random acrobatics on walls. What actually really matters, what is going to benefit or damage each individual, is what is behind the performance itself. I can see a real split occurring in that sense with many of the new generations trying to practice parkour.
Let me explain what parkour really is: parkour is a movement-based practice aiming to help make individuals physically and mentally stronger, becoming balanced and rounded human beings who then help the community and others with those strong foundations.
It’s a pretty broad definition and am sure many think; “yeah, that’s me, I’m doing this”. But think again. Details make the difference. Parkour is a MENTALITY. A state of mind, a culture of hard work and effort, which is what made it possible to exist in the first place. Without this mentality, if it was only based on the terribly hollow and superficial events and message represented by the Redbull mentality, it would have never been created.
Again, it visually looks the same, but what is happening behind the jump in each practitioner’s mind is for me what defines whether you are doing parkour or not. It is a mentality that you could find in many different activities or persons, and this is the essence of parkour. Not the damn jump!
Parkour should be more personal, focusing on the inner work everyone has to do to be a stronger being in a wide range of ways. This is a mentality. And you could find this mentality in painting, writing, boxing…etc. Pretty much in everything we do, in fact.
Having a conversation with my friend Ido Portal recently confirmed it to me. It is really not about what you do, but HOW you do things. With what intention and state of mind. I feel closer and relate more to any person who practices any activity with this similar mindset than to any Redbullion type I could meet.
When I look at Youtube and when I type parkour or freerunning, I can not relate or feel close to what shows up 99.99% of the time. Why? What we do is completely different from the inside.
While in parkour we are trying to understand more about ourselves, get more confidence, be a happier person, stronger on many levels of our life, the other sort are feeding their egos with short term performances that will only lead to more suffering and eventually the end of their movement and of their good health.
There is an obvious SPLIT between what we do now. The word parkour has been overused and misused. It has lost strength and meaning. The identity of parkour has been stolen and exploited. These misportrayals are today actually representing everything we were fighting against at the early stage of the creation of parkour. Those big brands selling our own culture back to us, trapping us in the consumption of their products, trying to own and abuse the image of parkour to seel energy drinks, gambling casinos, indoor gyms… The more you follow this mentality, the less you are free and strong.
This is quite disturbing actually, if you think about it. This new strain has became the opposite mentality of what originally gave birth to parkour! Doing a little bit of research I found a lot of people “displeased”, to remain polite, with the massive campaigns of organizations like Redbull in the skateboard and graffiti artists world. Purists perhaps, but people very aware of being exploited and taking action to fight against this big machine that is stealing from them too.
I feel really sorry for my friend Sebastien Foucan who started to communicate with the word Freerunning after Jump London: his original definition of that word has been lost as well and eaten by the big parasite, and has now come to represent something completely different from his view.
Think about what you are doing. Reflect on your actions and moves. Why do you move? Why do you take risks? Be honest with yourself when answering those questions. And find out if what you are doing actually is in line with a positive and meaningful philosophy. Don’t think you are free and strong because you just released your new jump on Youtube or you sponsored by some pointless brand.
I have been quiet until now and I might lose some Facebook “friends” with these words but I feel like I have to say something; because what we were training before is dying and being replaced by a joke. By something that lacks any depth or meaning. I think a lot of serious practitioners across the world share this thought, and I encourage you all to speak louder!
Photo credit : Andy “Kiell” Day