Parkour
Parkour as a Process
18th December 2016
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Parkour is about the process. It is not about the outcomes.

It isn’t about whether you can jump a certain gap, do a certain move, whether you’re comfortable at height or not. It’s about how you try – how you train. Parkour culture, on the whole, seems to think your ability is what matters. It is not.

Parkour is the process of self-overcoming, using movement (including around urban routes and challenges) as a tool to become better. Better in what? Overcoming obstacles of the non-physical sort. Learning to deal with fear. Building resiliance. Growing in confidence. Finding your weaknesses and grappling with them. Having fun.

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This picture shows a silhouette stood on a tall block on the right of the image, gazing down to the bottom-left which has a lower block. There is funky lighting in the sky.
Me doing some parkour process: thinking and mental battles.

The above bit is the overall point of this post – the opposite of clickbait, you get the core of the many words upfront, in the title even. The remainder of this post is more about this concept and different topics (new people, flips, competitions, videos, etc). And spending more time reading about the same thing makes that thing make more sense!

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The fact that you will probably get better at moving is almost just a by-product of this. I’m hesitant to relegate it to actually being a by-product, but I think it’s of secondary importance: the aim of improving your movement is part of it, but not the main part.

If your motivation is to look cool, I don’t think you are doing parkour. If your motivation is to develop as a person (or similar), that’s parkour. Of course, it gets messy when you might have mixed motivations – you can want to look cool and also do parkour. But I think these are different, and you end up doing half-parkour-half-ego-massage.

I’m not trying to define the motive of parkour as such, but I am trying to say that I think it’s about the process, not the outcome.

It may be that David Belle or Blane or someone else would say that they think I’m wrong and that it’s about improving your ability to reach or escape something, to be functional and useful and so on. And that would be about the outcome.

I don’t want to say they are wrong. But thoughts and the development of ideas are often in response to other things, and with this post I am responding to the mainstream approach of Looking Cool. If the dominant idea in parkour was that one, I wouldn’t be writing this post; if the dominant view was the one that I’m writing about, then it would be great for that idea to be the one to move forwards from mine.

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So if you find yourself feeling like you aren’t very good, or that you haven’t improved for awhile, this post is for you. It isn’t about the outcome. It’s about the process. If you’ve gone out to train and battled with something mental, you’ve been doing parkour, and that’s the bit that matters most.

Perhaps one person is small and another tall, so running up the same wall is easier for one of them. Perhaps one person has done more strength training before starting parkour, and that makes some things easier. Perhaps one person has one leg and another has two, and many moves are easier with two legs. Perhaps one person is more scared than another, so battling with fear is more difficult. Perhaps one person is depressed while another is full of energy, and attempting certain things is easier for one than another. Perhaps one is old and one is young. And so on.

Comparison with others makes little sense. We have different starting points and different obstacles to others. Maybe we want to look at what others do and be inspired by that, but let that be positive and inspire you to do better as yourself, not be negative and make you feel worse than others.

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This also means that when people who are new to parkour or haven’t tried it (as well as those who already do it!) say something like ‘Oh, it looks fun but I wouldn’t be very good‘, that doesn’t actually make sense in a parkour context.

As parkour isn’t about achievement, completing certain things or beating other people, anybody can do it. Doing it well is more about how well it matches with parkour spirit, not about what it looks like or what movement you are able to do. Perhaps it’s possible to ‘not be very good’ at parkour if, when you try to practice parkour, you instead get distracted by your phone or spend the whole time filming cool tricks, but that isn’t the point here.

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This is also why competition and videos and performance are so often contrary to parkour spirit.

Competition is about beating other people. Why does that matter? What has that got to do with parkour? Competition makes parkour about outcomes: whether you can move faster than somebody else, do certain moves they can’t or with better skill, and so on. That’s not what parkour is about. Suddenly, people train for the outcome, not for the process. As above, they aren’t inseperable, no doubt there are many people who train mostly for the process with competition as a side-point. But that’s still a corruption: if competitions is part of what you train for, that changes your parkour.

The majority of videos are someone showing off their movements. That’s about outcomes: what you are able to do. The process of how they got there – the important bit – is missing. This isn’t against all parkour videos, there are many great ones that do show something about the process. But a video just showing stunts is not representing parkour.

(I also wrote more about parkour videos in this blogpost. This post is actually a prequel to that one, I had the idea first but wrote it afterwards.)

For similar reasons performance too is difficult to make representative of parkour.

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The age-old question of are flips parkour? I think it depends on the why. For a lot of people, the flips is about looking cool – which, if you’ve read this far, you might have realised I don’t think is parkour. But if it’s about the learning process, overcoming mental challenges and so on, then I think flips can be parkour. They have utility, both as a thing to learn and for some movements: dive-fronts and sideflips are effective passements in some situations, and the aerial awareness is good for safety if you fall in somesituations.

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I don’t meant to say that parkour is only about the self-improvement process. Movement outcomes, utility, helping others, and probably other things that didn’t immediately spring to mind are also part of parkour. This post is not trying to say ‘this is a complete theory of parkour’, it just highlights a particular and important part of it: that it is about the process, not the outcome.

I’m also not saying that you shouldn’t do things to look cool, as such. Do tricks if you want, the point here is: that isn’t what parkour is about.

Aaand I’m not saying ‘competition is bad’, either in general or for parkour-type-stuff. I might think that, or at least be clear that I think the current competition-focus of society is terrible, but again, the point here is just that that isn’t parkour. Don’t call it parkour. Call it obstacle course racing or something.

I’m happy to discuss my thoughts on these, this is just to clarify what I’m saying and not saying here.

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I first did parkour about six years ago. I had been wanting to do it for a few years, but not got round to it, and I took an eight-month break at some point. There are many people who started sooner than I did, and can do bigger jumps and loads of movements that I can’t do. At times this has got to me, and this post is partly written and as the result of me responding to that insecurity. But this isn’t just me, and I see it in others too, and generated by the general parkour culture.

In some ways, my parkour ‘ability’ isn’t as as good as it used to be. I can’t jump as far or as well, having not practiced precision jumps much and taken rests for knees, and many other such things. In other ways I have improved though, such as dealing with fear and breaking jumps and being comfortable at height.

But that isn’t the point either. It isn’t about being better overall, it’s about the struggle and the battle, the trying and the journey. This should bring marginal benefits, of value and achievement and being better at dealing with mental puzzles and being playful and other things – but it isn’t about being better overall. Perhaps I’m worse at these than I was a year ago, but as long as I’m better than I would have been had I not done the parkour for a year, there’s a marginal improvement. If it isn’t having improvements for you, then maybe there are other things that can be a better use of your time, parkour isn’t the best thing for everybody all the time.

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You probably get the point by now. Thoughts and comments welcome.