I just edited a parkour video and thought I would share a few thoughts on this. Parkour and videos can be a bit messy. The summary: think carefully about your media outputs.
There’s three sections: a description of the session, of the type that would usually accompany a video (though longer); then some thoughts about videos and parkour, which I’ve been thinking for a couple of years but not yet let out; then a discussion of how I felt editing this video and how those thoughts applied a bit.
The three of us – Pia, Ronja and Alex – were at this spot for about an hour. We started with a warm-up, which was mostly done by small partner-movement-games, then we played around on the bars. Pia was learning the ‘thief’ vault (first move in the video sequence), Ronja learnt the ‘gate vault’ movement (the one that starts with the bar at waist, then leans over to put a hand on the ground – if you are higher up, like on a bigger gate, this hand instead grabs the gate/wall/fence – and then swings the legs over from behind) and also practised cat-pass (‘kong vault’), and Alex spent half his time helping and watching them (as a distraction from actually training much) but did a few strides and jumps between the bars.
Alex then suggested we play ‘add one’, which we had all played before. He thinks he did this because he was finding it hard to train, and finds this game a useful tool to get him moving, though also because he thought it fitted well with what Ronja and Pia were doing in practising particular vaults: doing them while actually moving (instead of in isolation) is not just useful because of how artificial doing it in isolation is; it can also overcome a mental barrier that comes when something is in isolation, as when moving you go more with the instinct part of the mind instead of the worrying-controlling part.
People who don’t know the game: it’s a movement shopping-list game. Person A adds a move, everybody repeats it, then Person B adds a move. Notated: A1, B1, C1, A1, B2, C2, A2, B2, C3, etc. The person who added a move repeats the sequence with their move, then the person after that adds a new one. At least, this is how I know it best.
Halfway through, Alex thought to film this, as a record of what we did (this being the last time I would see the others for at least a short while) and to share it, as a sort of inspiration. Each of us was filmed twice, and the video stitched together the sequences into one. We were playing for 20-25 minutes, each of us repeated about 15 times.
It’s a great game for working on fluidity, as it makes you create routes densely made of individual movements. It also allows people to share moves, by adding them into the route. It isn’t perfect though: often people only include moves they are comfortable with, or pick obvious moves, so there isn’t too much out of the comfort zone. So try to throw in unusual and difficult moves on purpose: if there are two paths in front of you, take the more difficult one. For example, if a move has rotation, pick the direction that makes less sense.
(I’ll talk more about the editing of this video in the third section).
Meta-Thoughts: Behind Parkour Videos
There are two approaches to parkour videos. One – the one I did here – is to try and make a video something that captures a training session. The second is to start with the video and then fill it with parkour. The difference is whether the parkour comes first and the video second, in that the video is trying to follow the parkour, or whether the video comes first and the parkour is to fill a video. This difference is in the motivation too: is the aim to do parkour (and show it), or is the aim to make a video.
This may sound a bit like nonsense. It is a bit nonsense: it doesn’t actually split into two things, rather these are the two extremes, and most videos actually come somewhere inbetween it. Videos which aren’t made by the parkour practitioner themself, such as for a film or a music video, are examples of where the video comes first. But there are also videos like this made by parkour people themselves.
Sometimes, the integrity of the parkour is compromised by video, either in terms of the training or the discipline. This isn’t always the case: there are many great parkour videos. But it often is the case.
Just because a video compromises the integrity of the parkour doesn’t make it necessarily bad, this just means that the good of the video has to be traded off against the compromise. In many ways it could be said that parkour has been helped by videos that fall short of the standard I would want – but at the same time, parkour has been harmed by them, and perhaps parkour would be better off as a discipline if the videos had been better.
I’ll discuss two different dangers that exist in the filming of parkour videos: 1) there is a big danger that filming changes the training, and 2) a video is a portrayal of training, and can easily misrepresent it.
#1: When filming changes content
Parkour has a huge gap between how it is perceived and what it is. Part of this is due to people doing parkour in a way I don’t think is parkour – I’ll leave that aside (for this post at least!). The other part is because videos tend to show stunts and outcomes. Most videos are made to say Hey, look at all this stuff I can do.
When parkour is in films, it is because it is as stunts, meant to be big and impressive. Videos like this do not show parkour: they show stunts. They show the ability of parkour, but not the actual parkour, the training. That’s a straightforward one.
Parkour videos aimed at showing off also change the content of the training. When video is made to try and get impact and reaction (clicks, views, shares, etc), there is a tendency to make something sensational. This is a norm of parkour videos: they show big and impressive moves, and usually show the best version of things. The person making it will be doing different things if this is their aim, the content of what they are doing will be different, looking instead for big moves or adding on flips to look cool.
This doesn’t just have to be the case when the aim is to make a video: it can also be when they are training normally (without filming it) but then decide to film part of it. Perhaps they repeat it an extra time for the camera and ask somebody to film it; in a small way, that has changed what they are doing. This changes the motive for the movement, to being for the camera instead of for the movement itself, and that’s where the integrity of the training is compromised.
This isn’t always the case: it is definitely possible to film in a way that only has a minimal impact on the training. I believe this video to be such a video – we were doing the thing anyway and didn’t change what we were doing due to the filming. Often, the ‘vlog/movement log’ type of video is a good way of doing this, where the video comes second (eg this one). The minimal is in terms of us checking the person was filming before starting and that somebody had to stand and film, which slowed down our training a bit. On another case, I filmed a session using a chest-cam, so nothing much changed there. And another method is to have somebody else film the session – but the filming person must be doing it passively, not actively directly anything. Many of Julie Angel’s videos are this type of video: she films in the background of what’s going on.
It’s a fine line between these two, and in many cases when the training is compromised, it’s only a small compromise. But in other cases, it can be a big compromise. Hopefully this sort-of discussion helps to raise awareness: whenever I’m considering filming something, I consider the integrity of what is being done.
#2: The Portrayal
In the second case, which is much more subtle, the video is a misrepresentation of what the training was. This is separate to the above point, where the video-making changes the content of the training. The misrepresentation is because any representation requires selecting particular clips out of many clips – either in editing or in what is chosen to actually film – and this means that the output can look quite different to what is only done.
Best explained with an example: if you only use the clips of completed movements, you aren’t showing a training session. This is the outcome-oriented parkour video, showing the best version of what is done but not the attempts that failed. It is therefore a misrepresentation.
Parkour training is about finding things you can’t do and attempting them until you can do them. This works best when it’s things that are close to your ability, of course… The learning is in the repeated attempting. So when a video shows only the outcomes, it ignores a lot of the training that goes into it.
We must also add the ‘mental’ and spirit components of parkour: it is more than just the movement. There is the resilience and focus and grit and sweat and resolve, and also the weaknesses and humility and failures. There’s also the playful side, the social side, the helping-each-other side, and no doubt other sides too. These too get missed when the video only shows movement-outcomes.
Videos can be made that portray this well. Two examples:
This skateboarding video, which shows a skater trying one particular jump on many different occasions, failing most of the time, until eventually he lands it. He includes many times he falls and hurts himself, he includes anger and frustration, and also some tears and vomit.
This muscle-up challenge video, which includes people going through low points, collapsing, tears, and other thoughts along the way. This video shows only the training: the creator expressly decided not to show anybody completing the challenge or who completed it.
So when I’m filming something (or editing afterwards), I’ll be thinking about what I’m showing in it and what the representation is.
#3: Synthesis of these
So, it is near-impossible to make a video that shows all aspects of parkour. Longer videos can do this – such as the Yamakasi documentary, Le Singe est de Retour, or the videos showing Rendezvous event. Most of our videos are not these, so rather the challenge is to have videos that show different angles of the training at different times.
This post is written to challenge anybody doing media representations of parkour. (although I imagine that those who read this will already be doing pretty well in their media outputs, and the outputs that are more damaging are very unlikely to read this…)
The current parkour media is damaging. It explains some of the perception gap we have, that people think it’s about big jumps and stunts, whereas it is actually a movement discipline for everyone. A common response to people finding out I do parkour is for them to remark on how they would be no good – which entirely misses the point. It is also bad for current practitioners: though sometimes we will watch videos and find them impressive and inspiring, I think that more often it makes us feel like we aren’t very good. This is especially true when it is posted with comments like ‘just a small jump I did today’ or something else self-depracating (that person is probably also feeling like they aren’t good enough, as if because it isn’t the Best Thing Ever it ought not be shared). This also misses the point – parkour is more about the practise than the outcome – but it is still how we respond. When we go out and fail to try a jump, or attempt it many times but don’t succeed, it might make us feel we aren’t very good as we assume that other people make it first try. This is the iceberg fallacy: we assume that the ‘good’ people never fail, because we mostly see them succeeding.
So, if you make parkour videos, this is a challenge to you to reflect critically on what you are putting out there and what is missing.
Now, some caveats.
This is a simplistic discussion of what is much more complex: there is a huge variety of videos and video types out there.
It would be nearly impossible for one video to be perfect, so instead what should be aimed for (if someone is creating media – videos, photos, writing, etc) is a variety that represents their practise. So it is ok for there to be some videos showing only ‘outcome’ movements, if there are also videos showing normal training.
The performance videos serve some value, for those at a similar high level to inspire each other with what is possible.
Performance videos can also serve value in other ways. One might be if somebody is showing their movement-improvement over time. Another might be is if they are able to inspire new ways of moving or training – ‘movement research’ type videos (example). That is the aim of this video, to share the ‘add one’ game/training method. A third is for representation: videos that don’t show young men. So videos showing women/girls, old people, people who don’t look ‘healthy’, and so on are all great.
There are probably other shortcomings that I haven’t acknowledged.
The conter-caveat: despite all of this, I think there is still a lot of force in what I am saying.
Here I’ll talk about the video I made, why I chose it, what the shortcomings are, etc.
I chose to make a video to represent the route we were doing and game we were playing. The idea was always to rotate between all of us doing the route. It does well in showing the movement-quality-and-flow side of parkour (ie not big stunts), in showing this training method as an idea, in showing us having fun, and because it has two female practitioners in it (See and Do!).
However, it has big drawbacks. It does represent our training session, but only part of it, and there is much more missing than is shown. It only shows us completing the route once, so it only shows the outcome of our training and not the training itself. It does not show us creating the route: if you only saw the video, you might not understand how the game works. It doesn’t show us interacting with each other as we do it, talking and laughing and getting confused with our bodies. It does not show the times we got things wrong, forgot the route, bashed something, nearly fell off, etc. It doesn’t show the fact that we all improved as we went, the clips were taken after ten repetitions (of the earlier moves): Alex (green)’s sitting-spin on the rail was actually the first session in which he had done it to the left, to start with he was sitting and doing it in stages (as the other two did, but it happened that Alex’s made the video), so that incremental improvement is missing; Pia (blue) learned the thief vault (outside-leg first) shortly before we started add-one; similarly, Ronja (black) had only learned the gate vault that session and had also improved her cat-passes a lot.
So, there’s a lot missing.
Some of these decisions were made in the filming, by only filming the route. This was because we were primarily training, not filming, and filming more would have been more disruptive to the training. A lesser reason was that Alex wanted to capture the route we were doing as a record and be more a ‘fun’ video that is less effort to make: the primary aim of the video wasn’t to show other people how to play or how we had improved. Some decisions came in the editing: instead of a video showing the route once, I could have included the times we got stuck or made mistakes. Vault-vault-pause… vault-wobble-vault. It would still have been a good video. One danger is that in editing, we choose the best available clips. As it happened, I rotated between the three of us in the order of the videos I had, and there was only one person-clip that wasn’t their smoothest, but it could have been that I swapped clips around to include only the best ones.
Of course, I still think the video worth making. It has a lot of positives to it, and this still makes it a good contribution. The drawbacks are listed to show the weaknesses. If I were making many more outputs, then I ought to consider what is missing and make sure I’m covering good things.
Thoughts and further discussion very welcome: comment below! (This is preferable to facebook comments because comments here remain for future readers, whereas facebook ones disappear).
After writing this, I went back and did a second edit which embraced the imperfections. Compare with the original edit and see what was put in that was different – and I would be interested to hear back about which you enjoyed more, found more interesting or inspirational, or any other thoughts.
Credit to Julie Angel, not just for making lots of great parkour videos, but also for a talk she gave at a coaching conference in which she discussed the thoughts behind her editing of the 1000 muscle up challenge video.