Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Common Denominators

It is becoming increasingly clear to me that from the outside, every practitioner of Parkour is seen to be part of one large collective under the same umbrella. It is only upon closer inspection that it becomes possible to see that so many of us are doing different things and just choosing to use the same word to define what we actually do.

Now in my opinion not one of these definitions, motivations or reasons to practice are more righteous or better than any other, for I think it is important that we all follow our own paths and do what makes us happy. But it is interesting that as individuals we have all found something that draws us to this one word, that we then twist to mean something slightly different to each of us.

"What are you doing?" is a question I often find myself answering when I am training and each time that I do, I tend to answer a little differently. There is no definitive, simple answer to this question for me and I would imagine most of you have felt the same way when someone has inquired as to what it is you are doing.
"Parkour." tends to be the default answer that I hear myself and others use most frequently. And, "Oh! That free running stuff where you jump off buildings, right? Do a backflip!" is unfortunately one of the more common retorts that the word Parkour prompts.
But if we ourselves cannot agree on what we are doing, as a community, then how can we really expect members of the general public to?

You have to admit, the word itself is not particularly attractive or easy to say, so I think it is obvious that there is something else within the discipline itself that attracts all of these people to attach themselves to it and label themselves as practitioners of Parkour. A common denominator that unites us, if you like.

Extreme sports are relatively new and have become more and more popular as people have found themselves in increasingly dull and unsatisfying jobs. 'Weekend Warriors' are everywhere and you will know some of them, I'm sure. They're the ones who work Monday to Friday and use their weekends to escape and try to compensate for their tedious weeks by jumping out of aeroplanes or abseiling down cliff faces, in Wales.
With levels of obesity and depression at all time highs, alcoholism and drug use everywhere and everyone being told what to wear, where to go and how to think by a select few… is it any surprise that so many of us are looking for an outlet and way to escape all of this?

Could it be the freedom associated with Parkour that unites us, then? The fact that we don't make use of any special equipment means there is no board, wheel, bearing or handle to break, or restrict us. There is no need to avoid certain surfaces, weather conditions or locations. There is nowhere we cannot go, nothing we cannot make use of - the variables that spoil other sports and bring some activities to a halt, are the things we actively look for to challenge us. We strive in what would often be considered as difficult conditions and this makes Parkour very attractive and accessible to the masses.
If we are all just trying to quench some primal thirst for adventure and freedom, it is only natural that so many of us would be drawn to something where such freedom, physicality, self-improvement and courage are so widely employed and valued.

Most of us are social beings and enjoy interacting with others. We like being a part of something… so after their initial experience of Parkour, individuals often find themselves on one of the many forums or online communities that grow in number by the day, trying to find more answers.
Tragically, their new-found sense of freedom and excitement that is inherent in their discovery of Parkour is so often destroyed when they join our communities. They are told by everyone else what it is they are doing and what they should be doing. No longer are they on their own path, fueled by a moment of inspiration, but they are suddenly redirected on to one paved by everyone else.
Why they stood up and decided to explore their potential to move in the beginning is no longer their driving force, their goals are adjusted and purpose refined as they find out more and more about Parkour.
Ironically, instead of retaining their individuality and pursuing their own goals, these people try to conform to an ideal that nobody can agree on in the first place! But there is comfort in a crowd, strength in numbers and a satisfaction felt when one is part of something.
I'm as guilty of this as anyone. I wanted to find the 'secrets' to becoming great at Parkour and to find out more and more about the discipline, rather than exploring how I can become great at what it is I want to do... and succeed in being who I want to be.

So the reason I believe that we have so many different definitions of Parkour is due to us all retaining a part of our individuality and trying to do our own thing - but at the same time wanting to hold on to our place in the community so we can claim to be part of something bigger. 'Parkour' becomes what we all do, despite us all actually moving in different ways, for different reasons.

We do have something in common with each other though. What unites us is movement. It is what we do with this movement and our reasons for developing our mental and physical capacities, through movement, that is unique to us all. Whether we call it Parkour, Freerunning, L'art du deplacement or even 'Rage Froobling' is irrelevant. Words are overrated and poorly used. In the end I think all that matters is that we all retain our individuality and do what makes us happy, and avoid getting too caught up in definitions and terms.

'I practice Parkour', and to this day I think what I'm doing is very close to what the founder(s) intended that to be, but if an official definition was released tomorrow and it differed from my goals, it wouldn't bother me to call what I do something else. I enjoy being a part of a community who share a passion for movement but I think less than 5% of the people I have met and trained with practice for the same reasons, and to the same end, as myself.

And that is a good thing.

Be yourself; everyone else is already taken. - Oscar Wilde



Anonymous said...

Well said. Sometimes I personally forget that element that drew me in the first place, when I was slightly more innocent and ignorant of all the boundaries and definitions and rules that seem to become so systematic and unquestioned.

Good things to think about, before going about the day.

Cheers to that,

Darg said...

Fantastic. Very impressive article. Thank you. Aren't you againts that I translate it into Russian? :)

Keep train ;)

Anonymous said...

Nicely put. I think this is one of the reasons why it is important to take time to train by yourself and not in a group. It allows you to be critiqued less and just move.

sodm said...

very very good !

Natural Athlete said...

Interesting article but I don't really agree with the conclusions. Because I think the prior is wrong, I don't think people atracted to parkour choose it simply because they feel the need to move. When we define our common ground as movement training then weight lifters, martial artists, dancers, muscicians, all athletes etc fall into the general category of what we do. The parkour community is not united by movement in general and social pressure to move in a specific way.

The uniting force the common denominator in my opinion is attraction to the development of locomotive abilities. Good locomotion was an essential capacity for survival in our past, we needed to be able do more then sit and walk, we had to be able to run, jump, climb, swim, crawl, vault swing etc.

All children when left to themselves will spend large parts of their play time exploring their locomotive abilities. The will explore the spaces around them and their ability to move through them. Its true not just of human childern but of other baby mammals as well and the reason is simple by playing this way the hone abilities that would absolutely essential to their survival.

As moderners we live in a world were walking is the most activity your regular asked to do, were childern playing are told not to run, not to climb, certainly not to vault the furniture, were childern are kept in school for six hours with no recess and no PE and when the get home their parents are scared to let them play outside. When the grow up their goal is supposed to be to get a cushy job were the can sit on their but all day and eat donuts and when this starts killing them the solution is mindlessly run on treadmills and try to stimulate each individual muscle on some ridiculous expensive and boring machine.

I don't think its any surprise that people feel the need to explore our primal movement capacities in that environment that we want a name for it and that we look to community to teachers and leaders to help us reconnect with it.

Anonymous said...

Take this lightly because I am not a crafty writer and I literally dumped out my thoughts in a unstructured form.

This made me recall on two parts of my past, one that i haven’t thought about in years.

In 3-5th grade me and one of my friends, would practice moving from one place to another on the playground making up scenarios. "ok there is a bad guy blocking both ends of the bridge, we have to get down to the ground quickly and get to there" then we would see how we could do it. We would find obstacles and see if we could get over them. I would call him up and ask if he wanted to go train, and we would that was it.

Parents and friends would ask us what we were doing and we would simply say "Training" we couldn’t say what for, and never thought it needed a name. it was always just training.

Then as i moved to 6th grade my friend moved and i didn’t pursue this training i moved in to a "acceptable" past time one that "was real" rock climbing, buildering. Then when i stumbled across one of David’s old movies on youtube. It all began for me.

My views and reasons for doing parkour have molded and are slightly changed as i grow. But after reading this article it made me think about what drove me back when i was young and hadn’t heard of Parkour.

I think i did it when i was young and had no problem not having an answer for people, a name to call it. I'm sure people all over have done this but the group from France were the first to pursue it and legitimism it with a name. Because in the world we live in you can’t just do something because it must have a name and a reason, which in my opinion is a flaw.


Anonymous said...

Natural Athlete, I find myself agreeing with your statements as well as the original article. I'm not quite sure what you are stating as the exclusive difference between the two?

Chris 'Blane' Rowat said...

Darg - you are welcome to translate it if you find it useful!

Rafe - thanks for your input and I agree entirely with what you're saying. I should probably have defined what I meant by 'movement' a little more clearly since I did mean something more specific.

You're right anyway, it's normal for us to want to develop our natural capacities such as those you mentioned and it's clear to see a few of them are well featured in Parkour training - not all of them, of course... but a few.

Loren - I can relate to your story, thanks for sharing it. When I was young I did similar things but stopped when they felt unacceptable and I practiced more traditional sports... so I almost came back to this kind of training, rather than started it, 5 years ago.

I appreciate the feedback guys!


Anonymous said...

good stuff bro,
I have really been questioning my motives and how much I want to invest in 'parkour'.
It really seems that many people practice in an all or nothing way, with it being the one main focus in life. Each to their own, but i am trying to figure out how much of my thoughts, mind and energy i want to devote daily to learning to move better, and i think that i dont want to devote it ALL to movement.
Moving for me is just one aspect of life along with many others.
I think people need to think about why they are training and where it fits in to life.
I do agree with the words mate,
Its good to know you are still on the grind bro, been a good long while since i seen you.
overall,wicked and hope your well,

Anonymous said...

Great words Blane great words. Your an inspirational writer! Every post I read helps me to understand myself and my reasons for training, why it makes me happy, why I have a constant need for movement and freedom.

I've also thought a lot about my motives because I had a past much like Loren's with the "training with no aim on the playground in 5th grade" thing...I find it pretty crazy that labels can really almost control what we do in a way, and I think that more people wishing to pursue movement should ask themselves why they really are doing it, and how they themselves want to do it.

But yea, awesome post, keep it comin blane, see you at R3.


Chris 'Blane' Rowat said...

Jin, it's been a long time man and I miss you. Need to meet up soon, let's do it!

I know what you mean about finding the balance and people do seem to either be almost obsessed with training, or just casually doing it, there is rarely a middle ground. I fall in to the former category, it's been five years and the fire is still burning inside me!

I think it's for each person to choose where Parkour (or whatever) fits in to their lives and how much time they want to dedicate to it, comparatively.

For me, I find Parkour to be unique and able to teach me more about myself and others, than anything else I have found can... so it's important to me to dedicate a large portion of my time to my passion, and I would encourage everyone to do the same, whether that be stamp collecting or martial arts.
But there is definitely a lot of other things I want to do with my life too, I just feel that Parkour is my constant in all of it, the thing that will be there in some way throughout it all. :D


Chris 'Blane' Rowat said...

...and thanks Nick, see you at the Rendezvous!

Anonymous said...

Your articles, every single one of them, have touched something inside of me, the same thing that i felt when i first saw those image of David belle, Chase Armitage and the greats flash before my eyes.

and for this i thank you, to put it simply, what you write about is the door stopper holding open the door to inspiration.

you will probably never realize how much you have inspired and left myself in awe but one day i hope when my training has matured to a point when people type my name into you tube to reflect on the discipline i will dedicate those videos to you, and the other fine practitioners of freedom we call tracuers.

Unknown said...

Your blog is a constant motivator and also helps keep me in check. When my training starts going in a different direction than I intend it to, or I start focusing too much on one aspect of training, you always post a new blog that's like someone slapping me upside the head saying "wake up." It's as if you were writing your blogs specifically for me. All that said, with this one, I do have another theory I would like to share.

I believe that it really just boils down to an instinctive need to "play". All animals play, not just as babies, but even through their adult lives. Play is essential for growth and learning. In our culture we are taught that play is something only kids do and we are constantly and consistently told to grow up, be more mature, stop being so childish, etc..., and the learning stops, the personal development stops, and the ability to adapt and think creatively begins to fade. Parkour provides a way of holding onto the creativity and freedom that playing provides, a chance to grow and adapt, because really when you stop growing, adapting, and being creative, you start dying. By allowing a person to play with their environment and to consistently push themselves to improve, it helps a person to really live, instead of just existing until death. It provides the outlet for the stored up creativity and the inner child to express themselves and be who they were made to be.

4564984680464 said...

Well put. Still leaves the problem of a definition but that only seems to be a problem for people on the "outside". For most of (although definitely DEFINITELY not all) the community however, note having a definition doesn't really seem to be a problem.

I am sure my reasons are most certainly mine alone. What can you do lol.

Thanks anyway. It was an enjoyable read.

Dbfuru said...

Good article.. True. People often ask me and my friends what we are doing, and we do say "Parkour", and then we do usually get the people saying "Do a backflip of that wall then". But I don't even know if I am doing Parkour.. I just like the whole movement aspect and the freedom and fluidity..

Anonymous said...

There's one thing about pondering your motives that annoyes me to no end. Instead of coming up with an answer that satisfies yourself, a lot of people seem to interpret the question so that you need to land on some definite highly philosophical and morally acceptable answer. "I like developing my skills through movement" or plain "I enjoy it" are not good reasons, oh no. It seems that if I want to practice parkour I need to aim to protect the people around me on daily basis (what is this, an anime?) and do everything I can for the greater good.
I exaggerate but you get the point.

Motives are personal things and they aren't very comparable because we understand and feel about things differetly. You cannot judge someone's motives because you can never truly understand them. It's also good to keep in mind that even if the original practitioners built their motives on very noble ideas it doesn't mean that everyone else has to do the same.
More importantly, parkour doesn't limit the sources of motives.

Just something I've come across a couple of times.

aLdZ said...


This is very timely. Our community has been going through some tough conflicts similar to those that happened in the past. If you don't mind I'll share these to the rest of our community.

Anonymous said...

Hi Blane, i always follow your blog since i discovered it. I love your movements!!!
I translated your article in italian on my blog. I hope i didn't do so many mistakes...
How i can translate 'Rage Froobling'? What is Froobling? i didn't find it in the dictionary... :-P

Bye, and thank you for your thoughts and your video.

Raj Kumar said...

Hello Blane.
One thing that keeps me coming back to your blog is this: Your article makes me think. I agree to some of your concepts, but sometimes somethings don't go along with me. Which ultimately makes me think and then I end up having my own thoughts, which is a good thing in any way.
No matter how a person start Parkour, no matter if she/he follow someone or idealise someone, or even learn it off the internet. They all end up having their own definition of the art. But I think individuality is not for beginners. Even you realised it after doing Parkour for so long.

I really respect you for writing this blog, which helps so many people in many ways. Keep up the good work.

All the way from Pakistan.

Raj Kumar

Anonymous said...

thanks for yet another interesting article, your constant pondering at motivation and phycology makes for an interesting read, interestingly enough i find your articles find relevance in sports other than parkour, for example your article on dilution of parkour. id been having dificulty getting motivated and that article put it all into context.
yet again another enlightening article please keep up the good work

Anonymous said...

Love Peace, and Silence For U !
Who Ever U Are!

Unknown said...

Nicely words man, I am part of a group of Parkour from México. I saw you on youtube, you're very good.

So, I prefer train by myself.

Peace Bro!

Echoekamikaze said...

hello blane soy de guadalajara mexico este es mi blogspot http://echoeskamikazeparkour.blogspot.com

주영복 said...

Because parkour succeeds professionally a lot of money number of bee have ?

주영복 said...

Hi. I'm south korean traceur.

주영복 said...

When train Parkour, is that do everyday effective or is effective as do a week two or three times?

Anonymous said...

To Frog:
Rage froobling is a very similar sport to parkour that Teige made up. When asked what it was, he responded: It's pretty much where you can run really fast without stopping, then scale a car park while having stones thrown at you from a distance, then get to the top, grab a pigeon, munch its' head off, jump out the carpark into a bunch of trees, slide to the bottom, then BUSTA NUT!

Teige is a very unique individual and can be found by searching Teghead or Rage Froobling on Youtube.