The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) intend to create a new competitive discipline from Parkour. This is against the wishes of the global Parkour community. While FIG have partnered with David Belle and Charles Perriere (both founders of the discipline), nearly every other founder and major Parkour organisation has publicly condemned the move. While there have always been arguments amongst the competing factions within the Parkour community, they stand united in their rejection of FIG.
To read up on the story so far click here
Many people are angry and want to rally around something – social media is inundated with cries that something must be done! The only question is what? What can we actively do except share posts and become keyboard warriors? We feel powerless. We need answers.
Below is a breakdown of the organisations that exist right now as well as a recommendation for what to do next. Lets save Parkour. Or at least, do something more useful than share another Facebook post.
The state of play – Parkour Governance in a nutshell.
When the head of FIG said that “At the moment they are not organized. Their basic spirit is to be free, not to be organized.”1 – he was wrong. On a national and international scale there are many different organisations vying for international recognition.
The Mouvement was created by many of the founding Yamakasi members to try and bring Parkour together under one banner. But it was rocked by scandal recently when it allegedly partnered with FIG to help create a new competitive format called Obstacle Course Sprint. This fell through when the owners of the format, APEX, pulled out citing a number of reasons.2 Put simply, they felt Parkour was being encroached by FIG and they were not interested in a collaboration that involved the use of the word Parkour.
The Mouvement’s administrators denied the allegations saying that all talks had so far been informal. But the administrators Florian Bosi, speaking on behalf of Parkour International,3 plans to continue working with FIG along with Charles and David.
While many of the Yamakasi founders are part of the Mouvement – they did not know about the collaboration and were very angry when they found out. Many old wounds between the founders have resurfaced and the Mouvement is likely finished as an organisation.
The World Parkour and Freerunning Federation (WFPF) have a not for profit organisation called The International Parkour Federation (IPF) which has mostly focused on charitable work in the developing world.4 As in many cases where a for-profit works with a non-profit –IPF is an extension of WFPF so it’s perhaps better to talk about them.
WFPF champion competitive Parkour and worked closely with the Art of Motion competitions before developing their own competitions in the USA. The organisation is controversial as it’s view of Parkour is much closer to that of an extreme sport than the original discipline – but it is a large organisation doing a lot of work in the US and it is certainly the largest of the 3 ‘International’ groups.
WFPF recently made clear that they have no interest in working with FIG in a press release. They also made clear their stance that Parkour is definitely competitive.5
The Federation International du art du deplacement (FIADD) seems to be very quiet. From an outsiders perspective, FIADD seems to mostly be an extension of PKGEN in a similar fashion to the IPF being an extension of WFPF. They have mostly reshared the ParkourUK position on FIG. So we can assume that they support the ParkourUK Governance model.
ParkourUK are a National Governing Body based in the UK and have gotten Parkour recognised as a sport in their home country. They are also working within Ireland building a sister brand called Parkour Ireland and work closely with other bodies attempting to represent Parkour on a national level.
The ParkourUK model is for each country to develop their own governing body and then, by legitimate extension those bodies can form together to create an international body. There has already been some evidence of this idea at work, many of the larger European bodies partnered together to produce the European Standard for Parkour Equipment.
What is Parkour?
A major issue for ParkourUK and other national bodies moving forward is the ambiguity in what Parkour actually is:
While recognised as a sport in the UK, many long time practitioners would rather it be seen as a discipline. Some practitioners feel competition is the antithesis of Parkour’s message while others embrace it and glorify it.
It is very difficult for a governing body to represent all of these different viewpoints and ideas in one place. And since we use the same words to mean different things it’s no wonder that there’s no coherent agreed viewpoint.
Personally I think the problem is that we have two separate meanings of the word Parkour – one nestled inside another. Perhaps simply putting it down on paper will allow us all to speak the same language.
Parkour is firstly, and mostly, used as a catch all term for anyone practicing a movement discipline based on the old Yamakasi training methods developed in the suburbs of Paris. In many parts of the world it used interchangeably with Freerunning and L’art du deplacement. It tends to be the name that sticks and every group, no matter their style of training, feels a certain ownership of the word.
Within this word there are multiple other interpretations.
Parkour is also considered to be David Belle’s personal interpretation of the Yamakasi Philosophies he developed jointly with his friends while growing up together. This puts a lot more emphasis on moving effectively from one point to another and is often placed in stark contrast to another word ‘Freerunning’.
Freerunning was originally the English translation of Parkour but grew to become linked more closely with Sebastian Foucan’s personal interpretation of the Yamakasi philosophy. Seb puts a strong emphasis on freedom of movement and choice and it is from this philosophy that the competitive element of Parkour first emerged.
L’art du Deplacement is the term that the present Yamakasi use to refer to their personal interpretation of the movement discipline they developed while growing up with David, Seb and others. This includes Yann Hnautra, Chau Belle, Laurent Piemontesi and Williams Belle. ADD philosophies include “to be strong to be useful” and “to be and to last” and focuses heavily on hard work and repetition.
For the European teachers and others with direct exposure and coaching from the Yamakasi founders, the exact word is considered secondary to the purpose. The founders are clear that you can follow any path you like – up to and including competing in competitions – but their way is non-competitive. This leads to the dominant (but is by no means exclusive) view that the catch-all Parkour is non-competitive. Movement competitions that stay well clear of the word ‘Parkour’ like Ninja Warrior, are accepted. But Parkour competitions are considered an oxymoron.
Further afield communities whose understanding of Parkour developed primarily on the internet and from secondary sources have a very different interpretation of this idea. Parkour is considered a pure discipline of efficient movement while Freerunning is seen as a performance discipline creating amazing stunts in the natural environment. Both of these concepts can be turned into competitive disciplines. And it is unsurprising that people would wish to compete. Further, competitions have many upsides including sponsorship, funding, exposure, media attention and many pre-existing successful models (such as skateboarding) that can easily be adapted to produce a rigorous structure. Those who reject competition are accepted but mostly ignored.
So where does that leave us?
For those to whom Parkour and Freerunnings disciplines are competitive – this is where the story ends. You have to find your own way.
For the myriad of coaches and students for whom Parkour is a non-competitive discipline, an international body meeting their values doesn’t exist. The national bodies generally have very loose definitions of Parkour as they are purposefully attempting to attract member organisations from all sides of the spectrum. Trying to bring everyone together.
Further, an international body that is non-competitive will struggle to gain international recognition in terms of being a ‘sport’. As international recognition is often dependant on being competitive.
As a result, it’s likely that the national bodies would make room in their definitions for both competitive and non-competitive versions of the discipline. But this is likely to be considered unacceptable to the groups that are non-competitive – which leads us to the uncomfortable conclusion that both groups may have to exist separately.
The closest discipline I can find that has similar issues is Capoeira. Which has international bodies and competitions but also has a huge completely non-competitive base who don’t really recognise the competitive element.
A Call to Arms?
Call it pure Parkour, call it ADD, call it anything you like, our discipline can and does change people. Parkour provides safe spaces where physicality and challenge is explored outside of the competitive mindset that consumes the western world. It is a wonderful, joyful and very real expression of play that builds into the concept of challenging yourself rather than others. It asks something different of each person and gives something different to each person who gets to experience it.
And if the last month has taught us anything, it is that it needs protected from commercial interest and a slow but steady dilution of our values. We need an international body that represents us. That fights back against FIG and also differentiates us from WFPF. We need something that embraces the spirit of the founders and rejects other interpretations.
It wont be easy. Parkour practitioners are a stubborn and independent lot. We train ourselves specifically for these qualities. An ability to complete any challenge you set yourself naturally comes hand in hand with a basic arrogance that we will likely never quite shake.
My suggestion: A World Parkour Council. Made up of affiliating organisations rather than regional representatives. Its purpose? To bring parkour practitioners together. To promote the exchange of ideas between different cultures and practitioners – to promote travel and facilitate the Parkour Passport wherever possible. To protect Jams and Jam Culture at every turn and to facilitate Accessible Parkour Coaching so that our discipline is open to all regardless of background or predisposition. Oh, and to reject Competition.6
This will almost certainly exist in a pay to vote system. The council must be funded and it is right and proper that the successful organisations contribute most directly to the council and help steer it. In an increasingly divided world where anyone can have a voice and a say via the power of social media there is legitimacy in success.
It is not easy – but it is not impossible.